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- Analysis of the "nurse-tree effect" of exotic shelter trees on the growth of the indigenous Podocarpus falcatus in an Ethiopian montane forest (2011)
- Ethiopian forests disappear with a rate of 1.1% per year due to the high demand of firewood and timber. To protect the remaining parts of the forests, exotic tree plantations were established 60 years ago. But there are considerable concerns regarding exotic plantations: they have the reputation to cause damage to the ecosystems due to high demand of water and nutrients. Considering the environmental deterioration caused by monotonous plantations of exotic tree species, the chance for indigenous woody plants to rejuvenate naturally in those plantations appears to be very small. But there are observations of indigenous tree species regenerating under the shelter of exotic tree plantations. This enhanced growth of indigenous saplings under the canopy of exotics has been termed “nurse-tree effect”. In the Munessa-Shashamene Forest, a tropical montane forest in Ethiopia consisting of plantations of exotic tree species and remnants of natural forest, regeneration and an enhanced growth of native Podocarpus falcatus saplings under the shelter of exotic tree plantations (Pinus and Eucalyptus) was observed. The focus of this work was to examine the different growth patterns of the saplings in the sites, the effects of the on the photosynthetic performance, and to compare the water relations of the Podocarpus saplings and those of the shelter-trees. The results of the study are summarized as follows: 1. Observations over two years showed that the relative growth rates of the saplings were more than three times higher in the Pinus plantation compared to the natural forest and the Eucalyptus plantation. Relative growth rates during the dry and the rainy season were more or less identical. 2. Investigation of the sub-canopy microclimate proved PAR and VPD as major components with impact on the photosynthetic performance of the saplings. 71% of the variations in photosynthetic carbon uptake could be explained by PAR and 4% by VPD. The Pinus plantation was slightly warmer and drier compared to the other two sites. Also highest PAR values of all sites were recorded in the Pinus plantation. In the Eucalyptus plantation, PAR values were the lowest of the three sites, caused by the two-tired canopy of coppiced and uncoppiced Eucalyptus trees. 3. For an assessment of the photosynthetic efficiency of the light climate, the efficacy of the shares of the irradiation from diffuse light and light flecks were determined from light curves. The time spans and distribution of these shares of the daily accumulated radiation were recorded from the daily courses. In the Pinus plantation, the efficiency of the radiation was relatively low (70%), because of the high intensity of the sunflecks, especially during the dry season. On cloudy days the efficiency was nearly 100% and resulted in an optimum photosynthetic performance of the saplings in the Pinus plantation. In the Eucalyptus plantation, the two-tired canopy resulted in a higher proportion of diffuse radiation and less daily accumulated PAR from sunflecks (46%). Also the efficiency of the actual radiation was the lowest of all sites on cloudy (72%) and sunny (53%) days. Daily accumulated PAR under the canopy of the natural forest was in between the other forest types. Such mid-position was also true for the share of the sunflecks and the CO2 uptake. Efficacy of the radiation was 80% on sunny and 86% on cloudy days. 4. Water relations can substantially affect the photosynthetic performance of plants. Especially in the afternoons of the dry season a decrease of photosynthetic CO2 uptake by the Podocarpus saplings became apparent. Whole-tree water consumption was determined by measuring sap flow with the Granier system. In principle sap flow (and transpiration) followed VPD. Comparison of the daily courses of transpiration and stomatal conductance and sap flow showed an earlier decrease of transpiration by the leaves of the saplings than by the shelter-trees, suggesting slight water shortage especially during the dry season. This interpretation is corroborated by the higher 13C values in the leaf tissue of the saplings from the Pinus plantation. Nevertheless severe drought stress did not occur during the two years of investigation. 5. The literature on the „nurse-tree effect“ mentions in particular Eucalyptus as shelter-tree, a finding which is not in agreement with the data of this study: Neither photosynthesis nor growth was enhanced compared with the control saplings in the natural forest. The discrepancy between this work and the literature can be solved when the management of the Eucalyptus plantation is considered. As long as the Podocarpus saplings grow under the two-tired canopy of the coppiced trees, growth is as slow as in the natural forest. However, after coppicing the light climate for the saplings ameliorates considerably and growth rates increase. Thus, a shelter-tree effect could also be observed under Eucalyptus, but its dynamics is stepwise rather than continuous.