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Understanding how we can increase the resilience of forest systems to future extreme drought events is increasingly important as these events become more frequent and intense. Diversifying production forests using intimate mixtures of trees with complementary functional traits is considered as one promising silvicultural approach that may increase drought resilience. However, the direction and magnitude of the drought response of mixed-species stands relative to monospecific stands of the same species can vary with species identity, relative abundance and levels of competition in a focal tree’s immediate neighbourhood.

Using a long-term experiment where tree-level mortality and the neighbourhood composition of each tree was known, we assessed the radial growth response of 24-year-old Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees in intimately mixed and monospecific stands to a short-duration, high-intensity spring drought in Scotland. Mixing proportions included 25:75, 50:50 and 75:25 of P. sylvestris and P. sitchensis.

At the species level, Scots pine was more drought resistant and resilient than Sitka spruce, while Sitka spruce showed higher recovery. Surprisingly, neither pre-drought tree size nor neighbourhood competition were significantly associated with resistance or resilience to drought, and trees of both species within monospecific stands showed higher recovery and resilience than trees growing in mixed stands.

Our study suggests intimate mixtures of these two species may not be an effective way to mitigate the negative impacts of future extreme spring drought events. Given that these two species comprise almost 70% of coniferous forests in the UK, our results highlight the pressing need to better understand their vulnerability to drought and the conditions under which intimate mixtures of these species could be beneficial or detrimental. Such knowledge is essential if we are to enable forest managers to effectively plan how to adapt these forests to the challenges of a changing climate.

Publication type
Peer reviewed papers
Publication owner
Forest Research
Scientist - Silviculture & Species
Forestry Staff Ovenden Tom 05.2e16d0ba.fill 600x600 1

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