Drivers of tree growth, mortality and harvest preferences in species-rich plantations for smallholders and communities in the tropics

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Nguyen, H, Vanclay, J, Herbohn, J & Firn, J 2016, 'Drivers of tree growth, mortality and harvest preferences in species-rich plantations for smallholders and communities in the tropics', Plos One, vol. 11, no. 10.

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Peer Reviewed



There is growing interest in multi-species tropical plantations but little information exists to guide their design and silviculture. The Rainforestation Farming system is the oldest tropical polyculture planting system in the Philippines and provides a unique opportunity to understand the underlying processes affecting tree performance within diverse plantings. Data collected from 85 plots distributed across the 18 mixed-species plantations in the Philippines was used to identify the factors influencing growth, probability of harvest, and death of trees in these complex plantings. The 18 sites (aged from 6 to 11 years at time of first measurement) were measured on three occasions over a 6-year period. We used data from the first period of data collection to develop models predicting harvesting probability and growth of trees in the second period. We found little evidence that tree species diversity had an effect on tree growth and tree loss at the community level, although a negative effect was found on tree growth of specific species such as Parashorea plicata and Swietenia macrophylla. While tree density of stands at age 10+ years (more than 1000 trees/ha with diameter > 5cm) did not have an impact on growth, growth rates were decreasing in stands with a high basal area. Tree size in the first period of measure was a good predictor for both tree growth and tree status in the next period, with larger trees tending to grow faster and having a greater chance of being harvested, and a lower possibility of mortality than smaller trees. Shade-intolerant trees were both more likely to be harvested, and had a higher probability of death, than shade-tolerant individuals. Native species and exotic species were equally likely to have been lost from the plots between measurement periods. However, shade-tolerant native trees were likely to grow faster than the others at age 10+ years. Our findings suggest that species traits (e.g. shade tolerance) could play an important role in optimizing species composition for this type of plantation. Shade-intolerant species with rapid early growth could contribute early income for farmers in mixed plantings where some products may take years to realize. We also suggest selective harvesting or thinning (for small shade-intolerant trees) applied at age 10+ years could reduce the competition for resources between individuals.