The influence of microsite conditions on early performance of planted Nothofagus nitida seedlings when restoring degraded coastal temperate rain forests
Widespread impacts of changes in land use, climate, and disturbance regimes continue to affect mature forests and their subsequent post-disturbance recovery. In South American temperate rainforests, the recovery of the original composition, structure, and ecological services of now-degraded old-growth forests is additionally hampered by the aggressive competition that the native Chusquea bamboo understory exerts on juvenile trees, thus arresting ecological succession. In this study, we aim to evaluate the early performance of Nothofagus nitida seedlings (pioneer tree species that tolerate shade) planted beneath nurse canopy following removal of the understory, and to define which microsite conditions can facilitate N. nitida growth. For this, we monitored 45 N. nitida plantings established in 2014 in Chiloé Island (North Patagonia, Chile) for five years. After this period, planted seedlings presented relatively good indicators of performance with low mortality (~30% of dead seedlings), good vitality (~60% of healthy seedlings), and relatively high mean periodic annual increments in root collar diameter and height (~1.7 mm/year and ~17.4 cm/year, respectively). Furthermore, our results show that the planted N. nitida seedlings can tolerate and grow under low-light conditions, though their diameter and height increase significantly with higher light availability. However, physiological stress of planted seedlings increased in open areas with more available light and planted seedlings were most stressed during the summer season. Increased summer-season stress was attributed to the months with highest depth of the water table, highest maximum and mean photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) values, highest temperature, and lowest precipitation. Our results show for first time with field-based data that different microsite and canopy conditions facilitate the initial performance of N. nitida plantings after removal of the Chusquea bamboo understory. In this context, we conclude that the removal of the Chusquea bamboo understory is the key to overcome arrested succession of coastal temperate rain forests Furthermore, supplementary planting of pioneer tree species that tolerate shade, like N. nitida, assists natural forest recovery, especially in humid and open sites with some protection of a nurse canopy.