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Tree-species interactions increase light absorption and growth in Chinese subtropical mixed-species plantations


Light-related interactions can increase productivity in tree-species mixtures compared with monocultures due to higher stand-level absorption of photosynthetically active radiation (APAR) or light-use efficiency (LUE). However, the effects of different light-related interactions, and their relative importance, have rarely been quantified. Here, measurements of vertical leaf-area distributions, tree sizes, and stand density were combined with a tree-level light model (Maestra) to examine how crown architecture and vertical or horizontal canopy structure influence the APAR of 16 monocultures and eight different two-species mixtures with 16 different species in a Chinese subtropical tree diversity experiment. A higher proportion of crown leaf area occurred in the upper crowns of species with higher specific leaf areas. Tree-level APAR depended largely on tree leaf area and also, but to a lesser extent, on relative height (i.e., tree dominance) and leaf-area index (LAI). Stand-level APAR depended on LAI and canopy volume, but not on the vertical stratification or canopy leaf-area density. The mixing effects, in terms of relative differences between mixtures and monocultures, on stand-level APAR were correlated with the mixing effects on basal area growth, indicating that light-related interactions may have been responsible for part of the mixing effects on basal area growth. While species identity influences the vertical distributions of leaf area within tree crowns, this can have a relatively small effect on tree and stand APAR compared with the size and vertical positioning of the crowns, or the LAI and canopy volume.

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The first author was funded by a Heisenberg Fellowship (FO 791/4-1) from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). The research was further supported through research grants from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) to Jürgen Bauhus (BA 2821/14-3), Michael Scherer-Lorenzen (SCHE 695/2-3), Werner Härdtle (HA 5450/2-3), and Goddert von Oheimb (OH 198/2-3) in the context of the Research Group BEF-China (FOR 891).

Author information

DF conceived the idea. PR and KL performed fieldwork. DF and PR analysed the data. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

Correspondence to David I. Forrester.

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Communicated by Ylo Niinemets.

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Forrester, D.I., Rodenfels, P., Haase, J. et al. Tree-species interactions increase light absorption and growth in Chinese subtropical mixed-species plantations. Oecologia 191, 421–432 (2019).

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  • BEF-China
  • Complementarity
  • Crown architecture
  • Maestra model
  • Stand structure