Interactions and competition processes among tree species in young experimental mixed forests, assessed with chlorophyll fluorescence and leaf morphology



Chlorophyll a fluorescence (ChlF) and leaf morphology were assessed in two sites in Europe (Kaltenborn, Germany, and Satakunta, Finland) within a forest diversity experiment. Trees at Satakunta, planted in 1999, form a stratified canopy, while in Kaltenborn the trees are 7 years old, with no apparent canopy connection among broadleaf species. The following ChlF parameters from measured OJIP transient curves were examined: FV/FM (a proxy for maximum quantum yield); ΨEo (a proxy for efficiency in transferring an electron from reduced QA to the electron transport chain); I-P phase (a proxy for efficiency of reducing final acceptors beyond PSI); and PItot (total performance index for potential energy conservation from photons absorbed by PSII to reduction of PSI end acceptors). At Satakunta FV/FM and ΨEo in Betula pendula were higher in monocultures and lower in mixed plots, perhaps due to increasing light availability in mixed plots, which can induce photoinhibition. The opposite trend was observed in Picea abies, which was shaded in mixed plots. At Kaltenborn FV/FM decreased in Fagus sylvatica and P. abies in mixed plots due to competition both above- and belowground. At Satakunta LMA increased in B. pendula leaves with increasing species richness. Leaf area of ten leaves was reduced in F. sylvatica in mixed plots at Kaltenborn. By up-scaling the overall fluorescence response to plot level (PItot_plot), a significant positive correlation with tree diversity was found at Kaltenborn, but not at Satakunta. This could suggest that competition/facilitation processes in mixed stands play a significant role in the early stages of forest establishment, but then tend to be compensated in more mature stands.