Restoring native forests from Pinus radiata plantations: Effects of different harvesting treatments on the performance of planted seedlings of temperate tree species in central Chile
Extensive areas of native vegetation have been cleared to establish commercial exotic tree plantations in south-central Chile, a region known as a world biodiversity hotspot. Despite increasing societal demands to restore native forests in parts of the landscape, documented experiences for this form of restoration are lacking. We conducted a landscape-replicated experiment to test the influence of different harvesting treatments (clearcut, strip-cutting and unharvested control) on the early establishment of native tree species in 20-year-old Pinus radiata plantations. Group plantings of shade-intolerant (Nothofagus dombeyi; Nothofagus obliqua), semi-tolerant (Nothofagus alpina; Laurelia sempervirens) and shade–tolerant species (Aextoxicon punctatum; Cryptocarya alba) were established across the treatments, and seedling performance and water status were monitored during the first two growing seasons. Mean survival was significantly higher in the strip-cuttings (77%) and control (70%) than in the clearcuts (38%), while mean height and root collar diameter growth were significantly higher in the strip-cuttings (16 cm year−1; 0.2 cm year−1) and clearcuts (16 cm year−1; 0.2 cm year−1) than in the control (5 cm year−1; 0.1 cm year−1). Shade-intolerant and semi-tolerant species showed the highest growth responses to openings. Leaf water potential was significantly higher in seedlings in the strip-cuttings than those in the control and clearcuts, and stomatal conductance was significantly higher in the strip-cuttings and clearcuts than in the control. Higher seedling performances and lower water stress in the strip-cutting treatment suggest that partial canopy removal is a suitable method for artificial regeneration of native tree species with different shade tolerances for native forest restoration from P. radiata plantations.