Light environment and tree development of young Acacia melanoxylon in mixed -species regrowth forest, Tasmania, Australia
Unwin, GL and Jennings, SM and Hunt, MA, Light environment and tree development of young Acacia melanoxylon in mixed -species regrowth forest, Tasmania, Australia, Forest Ecology and Management, 233, (2-3) pp. 240-249. ISSN 0378-1127 (2006) [Refereed Article]
Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon R. Br.) is a valuable leguminous cabinetwood species which is commonly found as a canopy or subcanopy tree in a broad range of mixed-species moist forests on tablelands and coastal escarpments in eastern Australia. This paper reports on the competitive light environment of a commercially valuable multi-species regrowth forest in NW Tasmania, in order to define some of the functional interactions and competitive dynamics of these stands. Comparative observations were made of the internal forest light environment in response to small-gap silvicultural treatments, in a young regenerative mix of three codominant tree species. Light measurements were made during periods of maximum external irradiance of the regrowth Eucalyptus obliqua / Acacia melanoxylon forest canopy at age 10.5 years. This was at a time of vigourous stand development, 4.5 years following the application of three experimental silvicultural treatments whose effects were observed in comparison with an untreated canopy sample designed as a control. Minimal irradiance was observed within and beneath the dense subcanopy of the native nurse species (Pomaderris apetala) which closely surrounds young blackwood regeneration. Unlike current plantation nurse systems, the dense foliage of the native broadleaved Pomaderris all but eliminated direct side-light and low-angle illumination of the young blackwood, from the beginning of tree establishment. The results demonstrated that retention of these densely stocked native codominants effectively suppressed both size and frequency of blackwood branches on the lower bole, through effective and persistent interception of sunlight. Vigorous young blackwood crowns later overtopped the codominant nurse species, achieving a predictable height of branch-free bole. This competitive outcome offers a valuable tool for management of blackwood crown dynamics, stem form and branch habit through manipulation of light environment in young native regrowth systems. Results demonstrate that effective self-pruning in the lower bole of blackwood is achieved through a marked reduction in direct and diffuse sunlight incident on the lower crown, notably to less than 10-15 % of full sunlight intensity during conditions of maximum insolation. The results also contain insights for the improved design of mixed-species plantation nurse systems using these or functionally similar speciesí combinations. Based on evidence presented here for native regrowth forest, plantation nurse systems for blackwood will need to achieve 85-90 % interception of external side-light during early years of tree development if self-pruning is to emulate the results achieved in the native nurse system.