Growth trends and dynamics in sub-alpine forest stands in the Varaita Valley (Piedmont, Italy) and their relationships with human activities and global change


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Abstract. A study of the forest lines, tree lines and the structures of the sub-alpine forest was performed in Vallone Vallanta and in Alevé forest in the Varaita Valley (Cottian Alps, Piedmont, Italy). Forest- and tree lines were analysed over 1728 ha while forest structures were studied on six 3000-m2 plots located at the tree line (2), at the forest line (2) and inside the sub-alpine forest (2). Dendro-ecological analysis of living plants and stumps showed that Larix decidua was more abundant in the past than today and that Pinus cembra has expanded, both upwards and within sub-alpine forests. Age structure analysis revealed that the current sub-alpine forest stands were established 200–220 yr ago, probably following a clearcut. At the forest lines the tree density decreases, and some trees are more than 500 yr old, whereas at the tree lines most of the trees (almost exclusively Pinus cembra) are younger than 100 yr. Growth dynamics were investigated both by observing Basal Area Increment (BAI) in the old and dominant trees, and by comparing the BAIs of classes of trees with a given cambial age range in different time periods. The results showed that the growth rates of mature Pinus cembra and Larix decidua had increased. These increments are more substantial for Pinus than for Larix. The growth rate of young trees (< 100 yr) of both species has decreased over recent decades. This could be due to competition caused by increased tree densities that have resulted from a decrease in grazing.