Forests (Sep 2021)

Tree Species Composition in Mixed Plantations Influences Plant Growth, Intrinsic Water Use Efficiency and Soil Carbon Stock

  • Francesco Niccoli,
  • Tiziana Danise,
  • Michele Innangi,
  • Francesco Pelleri,
  • Maria Chiara Manetti,
  • Giovanni Mastrolonardo,
  • Giacomo Certini,
  • Antonietta Fioretto,
  • Giovanna Battipaglia

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 9
p. 1251


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Species interactions in mixed plantations can influence tree growth, resources capture and soil fertility of the stands. A combined approach of tree-ring analyses and carbon stable isotope was used to check tree growth and water use efficiency of two species, Populus alba L. and Juglans regia L., intercropped with each other and with N-fixing or competitive production species. Furthermore, soil analyses were performed to understand how the different intercropping systems can influence soil characteristics, in particular soil carbon stock. Dendrochronological data showed that during the first years, the growth of principal species was favored by intercropping. This positive effect decreased in the following years in most of intercropped stands, due to light competition with the crown of companion species. Carbon isotope data showed that P. alba and J. regia had the highest intrinsic water use efficiency when growing with Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb, a shrubby species with a shallow root system that favors a non-competitive exploitation of soil water resources. Finally, the intercropping of the principal species with Corylus avellana L. promoted the highest soil C stock. Our findings confirmed the importance to consider the plantation dynamics and wood formation in the long-run and to apply appropriate thinning and pruning interventions to counteract interspecific competition.