Totara Stands Respond to Thinning

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1 1 Tree Grower article, June 2013 Totara Stands Respond to Thinning Paul Quinlan, Northland Totara Working Group David Bergin, Scion Latest results from a Northland Totara Working Group project show that growth rates of natural stands of totara can be significantly boosted by thinning. Both individual tree diameters and overall stand productivity increased as a response to silvicultural treatments. Analysis of the data has led to the development of a thinning schedule the first of its kind for naturally regenerating totara stands. This will assist landowners in making practical decisions about thinning intensities within naturally regenerating polestands of totara on farms. Silvicultural trials In 2007, silvicultural trials were established to evaluate the effects of thinning and pruning in natural totara pole stands at 14 sites across three districts in Northland. It was anticipated that silvicultural management would improve growth rates and tree form. The trials were set up in collaboration with Scion and the Diversified Species theme of Future Forests Research, with direct or in-kind contributions from local landowners, the Ministry for Primary Industries Sustainable Farming Fund, Northland Regional Council, Far North District Council, and Tane s Tree Trust. In total 38 Permanent Sample Plots (PSPs) were established within pole-stands of naturally regenerating totara across 10 different farms. The PSPs were established with control plots (that received no silvicultural treatment) at each site as well as one or more plots within each stand that were thinned and pruned, thus allowing a direct comparison of the effects of silviculture to be made. Prior to any silviculture all stems with a Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) of 50 mm and above were measured within each plot. Heights of a sample of canopy trees were also measured. Stands were originally thinned from densities of over 6000 stems per ha to varying levels of stocking ranging from stems per ha. The thinned plots were then remeasured immediately following silviculture and again one and two years later. Five-year measurement All 38 PSPs including the unthinned control plots, were re-measured in 2012, five years after the original thinning was carried out. This involved locating all trees within each plot that had been uniquely identified from the earlier measurements, and remeasuring their DBH. The same sample trees measured for height previously were also remeasured. RESULTS Mean diameter increment across all sites DBH periodic annual increment averaged across all sites for thinned and unthinned plots is shown in Figure 3 for the 800 largest diameter totara trees per hectare, and for all measured totara trees (i.e., those with DBH greater than 50 mm). The comparison based on all measured trees is somewhat misleading as unthinned plots tend to contain larger numbers of smaller, slower growing trees. Therefore, removal of these by thinning would be expected to artificially boost the apparent DBH growth rate. The comparison based on

2 DBH PAI (mm/yr) 2 the largest 800 trees per hectare gives a much fairer indication of how thinning has affected the growth rate of individual trees. Note that all plots including thinned plots contained at least 800 totara trees per hectare. As the final crop trees are likely to be selected from these larger diameter trees, they provide a more relevant measure of diameter growth rate. For the largest 800 diameter trees per hectare, DBH periodic annual increment in thinned plots averaged 4.5 mm per year compared with 2.8 mm per year in unthinned plots. This difference was statistically highly significant. It shows that diameter growth rates of individual trees in thinned stands are significantly boosted by the reduced competition Control Thinned 1 0 Largest 800 trees per hectare All measured totara trees Figure 1: DBH periodic annual increment averaged across all sites for thinned and unthinned plots over the five-year period since thinning. Means are shown and for the largest 800 diameter trees per hectare, and for all measured totara trees. Error bars show standard errors. Diameter increment by site DBH periodic annual increment of the largest 800 diameter totara trees per hectare over the five years ( ) since thinning are compared for thinned and unthinned plots at each site in Figure 4. At all sites growth rates in thinned plots are faster than in unthinned plots, although there are large differences between sites in the response to thinning. The stands with the greatest response in growth to thinning are CRAW-B, DONE, QUIN, RENW and TODD-B with increases in annual diameter growth from twice that of unthinned control plots (QUIN and TODD-B) to almost three times that of unthinned plots (RENW). A response to thinning was found in both slower growing stands such as CRAW- B where the DBH increment increased from 1.7 mm to 3.8 mm, and faster growing stands such as LANE-A where DBH increment increased from 4.5 mm to 7.2 mm. While these early results indicate a significant increase in diameter growth in totara pole stands on farms in response to thinning, the response is highly variable between stands (Figure 2). Further work is required to determine if differences in site characteristics such as fertility, drainage and soil type may be influencing growth rates and responses to thinning.

3 DBH PAI (mm/yr) Control Thinned TODD-C TODD-B TODD-A RENW QUIN OXBO-C OXBO-B OXBO-A LANE-B LANE-A JIMM DONE CRAW-B CRAW-A Figure 2: DBH periodic annual increments of the 800 largest diameter totara trees per hectare in thinned and unthinned plots at each site over the five-year period since thinning. Volume increment Mean periodic annual volume increment for all trees (including species other than totara) averaged across all sites over the five years following thinning and pruning is shown in Figure 3. The annual increase in per hectare volume of the trees live in 2012 was significantly (p=0.036) higher in the thinned plots averaging 8.3 m 3 /ha/yr compared with 6.6 m 3 /ha/yr in unthinned plots. Thinned plots showed significantly (p=0.0099) lower mortality, averaging only 0.6 m 3 /ha/yr compared with 3.5 m 3 /ha/yr in unthinned plots. The combined effects of greater growth and lower mortality, meant that the average net volume annual increment in thinned plots at 7.7 m 3 /ha/yr was more than double that of unthinned plots at only 3.1 m 3 /ha/yr, and this difference was statistically highly significant (p=0.0035). It can be concluded that by reducing competition through the removal of suppressed and malformed trees, thinning has improved the growth rates of the remaining trees, and also reduced the mortality. The ability of totara to respond to thinning is clearly shown by the fact that the gross annual increment (i.e., the growth of trees live at the end of the 5-year period) is greater in thinned than unthinned plots, despite the latter having a greater number of trees per hectare. It is also noteworthy that reduced competition in thinned stands has almost eliminated mortality. This is particularly encouraging given that there was a concern when the trials were being planned that the more open thinned plots might suffer increased mortality from windthrow.

4 Volume PAI (m 3 /ha/yr) Growth Mortality Combined Control Thinned Figure 3: Periodic gross annual volume increment per hectare (PAI), mortality, and net volume increment, for control and thinned plots across all sites over the 5-year period Error bars show standard errors. Implications for management of natural pole stands In highly stocked naturally regenerated totara stands, improved stem diameter growth rates and overall stand productivity may be achieved by thinning. Thinning increases the growth rate of individual trees through the redistribution and concentration of an area s growth potential on fewer stems. Suppressed and dying trees along with malformed or otherwise undesirable trees can be removed and trees with better form for timber production can be selected to remain. The growth of the potential crop trees is thereby enhanced by the removal or reduction of competition with the thinned trees. It is worth noting that all stems within the thinned plots were also pruned to improve the potential clearwood timber production. Size/density chart For many years, foresters in North America have used size/density charts to assist with decisions regarding the timing and intensity of thinning (Reineke 1933). In a size/density chart, the quadratic mean DBH is plotted against stand density on a log-log scale. A line representing the maximum stocking that occurs naturally for any mean DBH can be drawn on the chart. North American studies suggest that inter-tree competition begins at about 25% of maximum stocking, and becomes severe when it exceeds 55%. These values can therefore be useful to judge whether a stand will benefit from thinning and to determine the intensity of thinning required. If a stand is above the 55% maximum stocking line, it can be inferred that it will benefit from a thinning, and the thinning should be planned to lower the stand to the 25% maximum stocking line. However, for fast growing stands, thinning may be justified at a lower threshold than 55%, especially if maximising diameter growth is a target. Further trials testing different thinning thresholds could confirm if lower thinning thresholds are desirable. Northland totara stands Data from the Northland trial have been used to derive a maximum stocking line for naturally regenerated totara for the first time. In Figure 4, the unthinned plots are clustered on either side of the line representing 55% of maximum stocking, and are growing slowly and suffering mortality. This can be inferred from the fact that the lines representing these plots typically show a decrease in stocking between the initial measurement (right end of each line) and the recent measurement (left of each line). Also, when DBH increases in

5 Mean DBH (cm) 5 unthinned plots over the five-year period, this is invariably accompanied by mortality, and the DBH increase largely reflects mortality of smaller trees. After thinning, most of the thinned plots are positioned below the line representing 25% of maximum stocking, suggesting these thinnings were fairly aggressive. However, five years after thinning, most plots are approaching or have crossed the 25% line. In most cases, plots thinned to the 25% line or below, show a clear response to thinning. They show little evidence of mortality (i.e., the lines are vertical indicating that stocking did not change over the 5-year period), and generally have faster DBH growth than unthinned plots. 24 Max stocking 55% max 25% max Unthinned plots Thinned plots Stand density (stems/ha) Figure 4: Size/density chart showing thinned and unthinned stands. Each line shows the trajectory of a plot in Density/DBH space over the period from A THINNING GUIDELINE FOR TOTARA POLE STANDS Based on the analysis of growth over the first five years since thinning, a recommended thinning schedule for young naturally-regenerated totara-dominant pole stands has been developed (Table 1). This table is a guide for determining if a stand would benefit from thinning and the target post-thinning stocking. The schedule is derived on the assumption that stands with stocking greater than 55% of the maximum that can be maintained for a given mean DBH would benefit from thinning, and that a suitable target stocking is 25% of the maximum.

6 6 The table shows for example, that a stand with an average DBH of 15 cm at stocking of just under 2000 stems/ha would benefit from thinning to a level less than 900 stems/ha. However, in the process of thinning, because a greater proportion of smaller stems are likely to be removed during thinning, the mean DBH will increase following thinning. Thinning usually involves the removal of poorly formed trees and non-target species, followed by the removal of small and suppressed trees. When the target stocking has been achieved, a sample of trees should be measured to check whether the thinning has resulted in a significant shift in the stand mean DBH, which may mean that further stems should be thinned to achieve the target stocking. Table 1: Recommended thinning schedule for young naturally regenerating totara dominant pole stands. For any given quadratic mean DBH*, a stand with stocking greater that the 55% of the maximum should be thinned down to the 25% of the maximum. Mean DBH* (cm) Stocking at 55% SDI (stems/ha) Stocking at 25% SDI (stems/ha) 5 30,655 13, ,640 9, ,121 7, ,492 5, ,975 4, ,157 3, ,799 3, ,758 2, ,942 2, ,290 1, ,760 1, ,324 1, ,961 1, ,654 1, ,394 1, , , , , , , , , , , , *The quadratic mean DBH is obtained by measuring all stems greater than 50 mm DBH, and then calculating the square root of the average of the squared DBH. (N.B.- This varies slightly from the commonly used arithmetic mean to give greater emphasis to the larger and more dominant stems).

7 7 Basic inventory methods Practical methods for determining the mean diameter at breast height (DBH 1.4 m above ground) and stocking level (stems/ha) of totara stands are set out Bergin (2009). Methods for establishing Permanent Sample Plots and techniques for measurement of tree height are given by Ellis and Hayes (1997). Potential for sustainable management of totara in Northland Naturally-regenerated stands of totara are found in many pastoral areas throughout New Zealand including Northland. These have the potential to provide a sustainably managed timber resource. The Northland Totara Working Group (NTWG) was formed in 2005 to explore the timber production potential of this emerging resource in the Northland region. Although some old-growth totara trees exist in bush remnants on farms in the region, a significant resource of younger totara has regenerated since original land clearing activities. Compatibility with livestock grazing and its ability to naturally regenerate on marginal hill country are key attributes of species that open opportunities for its widespread integration into the rural production landscape. Some farms already have naturally regenerated trees of merchantable size, others have a developing resource. Promoting the sustainable management of totara for commercial wood use is seen as an effective incentive to encourage the further development of this indigenous forest resource on private farmland. This in turn will also lead to many environmental and landscape benefits. Further research The results of this project highlight several areas requiring further research. These include determining the factors that account for the significant variability in growth between sites. This is likely to be related to a combination of the different intensities of thinning and site type. A comparative analysis of growth response to site fertility, soil type and possibly drainage could lead to more precise growth models and silvicultural regimes. Also a better understanding of the site factors influences would help to determine where the totara resource is best developed within the landscape. The size/density chart confirms that some stands were not thinned sufficiently, and the lack of windfall in thinned stands indicates that regenerating pole stands of totara can be intensively thinned. Determining maximum growth rates by testing more aggressive thinning treatments should be undertaken. These silvicultural trials focus on only one select portion of the totara resource on farmland relatively young dense totara-dominant pole stands. The mean DBHs of the plots ranged from less than 15 cm to 23 cm. Therefore further trials are required in older naturally regenerated totara stands with larger diameters including harvest-sized trees. This will allow extension of growth models based on a range of thinning options across the full age/size range of naturally regenerating totara on farmland. Another priority is to develop a species-specific volume equation for pole and mature totara as part of future thinning trials, especially in older stands. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Study sites were located on farms owned by Doug and Sally Lane, Roger & Jane Hutchings, Aron & Tina Kilgour, Allan Crawford, Chris Sturge, Jim Mackey, Todd Hamilton, Noel Donelley, Willie Oxborrow, Richard Renwick, Daryl Masters and Paul Quinlan. Alan Griffiths and Warwick Silvester reviewed earlier drafts.

8 8 References Bergin, D.O. 2009: Assessing regenerating totara on the farm. Envirolink Report, Scion (unpubl.). Ellis, J.C.; Hayes, J.D. 1997: Field guide for sample plots in New Zealand forests. New Zealand Forest Research Institute, Rotorua. FRI Bulletin No p. Reineke, L.H. 1933: Predicting a stand-density index for even-aged forests. Journal of Agricultural Research 46(7): Thinning underway within a Permanent Sample Plot established in a naturally-regenerated totara pole stand, Kaeo, Far North, Northland. A basal disc sampled of a felled totara from a naturally-regenerated totara stand which had been thinned five years earlier. Note the increased growth in response to thinning with outer four rings each up to 5 mm wide compared to inner rings at only 1-2 mm wide.

9 9 A thinned Permanent Sample Plot within a naturally-regenerated pole stand near Whangarei, thinned five years ago from 3000 stems per ha to 1600 stems per ha. Average height of trees is 9 m and DBH 16 cm.

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