To what extent do tree growth, mortality, and long-term disturbance patterns affect stand structure and composition of an old-growth Picea abies forest?
We linked data from three 50 m × 50 m permanent plots established in 1986 with dendrochronology data to evaluate tree growth and mortality over an 18-year period and to describe a several-hundred-year disturbance history for this forest type.
Averaged over all diameters, P. abies trees had an annual mortality rate of 0.60%; however, diameter had a striking effect on both growth and mortality, with trees of intermediate diameters (ca. 20–30 cm) showing faster growth and lower mortality. Their increased vigor gave rise to a diameter distribution resembling the ‘rotated sigmoid’(not reverse-J) proposed for such conditions, and it led to a deficit of snags of intermediate diameters. Slow-growing trees had an increased likelihood of dying. Although recruitment occurred in most decades over the past 400 years, two prominent recruitment peaks occurred (mid 1700s and 1800s), neither of which appeared to cause a shift in tree species composition. The lack of fire evidence suggests that fire was not responsible for these recruitment peaks.
Taken together, these results depict a rather impassive system, where canopy trees die slowly over decades. Field observations suggest that fungal infections, mediated by wind, account for much of the mortality during these periods of relative quiescence. However, these periods are at times punctuated by moderate-severity disturbances that foster abundant recruitment.