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Ecological factors affecting the recent Picea abies decline in Slovenia : the importance of bedrock type and forest naturalness
Janez Kermavnar, Lado Kutnar, Anže Martin Pintar, 2023, original scientific article

Abstract: Norway spruce (Picea abies [L.] Karst.) has been at the centre of controversy for many decades. Recent evidence of its profound disturbance-induced damage and consequent stock depletions across forest landscapes in Europe has reinforced doubts regarding the sustainability and prospects of this tree species in the future. Like many other European countries, Slovenia has experienced significant Norway spruce mortality and a decrease in growing stock primarily as the result of several disturbance agents (bark beetle outbreaks, an ice storm, windthrows). We investigated a countrywide spruce growing stock decline based on data between 2010 and 2018. Particular focus was placed on identifying the main ecological drivers of this decline, namely geological conditions, climatic parameters, soil attributes, topographic factors and forest stand characteristics. The effects of potential predictors on the relative change (%) in spruce volume (m3 ha-1) during the period 2010-2018 were analysed with Generalized Additive Models. Based on a national dataset including forest compartments (n = 6355) with a spruce growing stock decline > 10%, we found mixed support for ecology-based hypotheses. While spruce decline responded to bedrock type as predicted (i.e., greater relative decline in carbonate compared to silicate compartments), higher forest naturalness (preservation of tree species composition) was not associated with a lower decline. Spruce decline was amplified by higher potential evapotranspiration and soil clay content but showed a strong negative relationship with spruce proportion in the year 2010. General trends along the gradients of other selected predictors (stoniness/rockiness and heat load index) were less pronounced. The results suggest that most of these ecological predictors interact with geology and forest naturalness in affecting Norway spruce decline. Our analysis reveals that bedrock type can play an important role due to its mitigating effects. However, forest naturalness is of secondary significance as intensified large-scale forest disturbances likely override its buffering potential.
Keywords: Norway Spruce, bark beetle outbreaks, ice storm, soil-geology, relationship, tree species composition, Slovenia
Published in DiRROS: 05.04.2023; Views: 577; Downloads: 126
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Are ecological niche optimum and width of forest plant species related to their functional traits?
Janez Kermavnar, Lado Kutnar, Aleksander Marinšek, Valerija Babij, 2023, original scientific article

Abstract: The ecological niche is one of the central concepts in plant ecology. Understanding which biological traits influence plant niches remains limited, preventing large-scale generalizations. Using a representative pool of 94 herb-layer species frequently occurring in the Slovenian forest vegetation types and an extensive suite of 28 plant functional traits, we tested whether traits serve as predictors for the optimum and width of plant species ecological niche. Niche optimum (mean) and niche width (standard deviation) of each species were derived from community-level ecological indicator values for six environmental gradients, i.e., light, temperature, continentality, moisture, soil reaction and nutrients. We investigated relationships between niche parameters and functional traits through a random forest analysis to account for relatively high trait correlations. Our results suggest that niche optimum and width of forest plant species are related to their functional traits. The two niche parameters were best explained by similar set of traits; however, the relative importance of traits differed substantially. Traits associated with disturbances (frequency and severity), plant dispersal (seed mass, dispersal syndrome), leaf economics spectrum (specific leaf area) and life strategy (CSR scores) showed the highest overall significance in predicting niche optimum and width. Functional traits were, on average, better predictors for niche optimum (average variance explained across all six environmental factors: 20.2%) than for niche width (average variance explained: 7.7%). Intraspecific trait variability, not considered in this study, likely plays an important role in case of niche width. The analyses suggest that, while not all traits impact niche parameters to the same degree, it is crucial to consider traits representing different ecological dimensions and revealing leading patterns of trait coordination. We recommend that the relative importance of traits for species niche parameters should be tested on a larger spatial scale using broader pool of forest understory plants across Europe.
Keywords: ecological gradients, Ellenberg indicator values, Slovenian forest types, trait-environment relationship, understory plants
Published in DiRROS: 09.03.2023; Views: 288; Downloads: 148
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Variation in floristic and trait composition along environmental gradients in the herb layer of temperate forests in the transition zone between Central and SE Europe
Janez Kermavnar, Lado Kutnar, Aleksander Marinšek, 2022, original scientific article

Abstract: Species- and trait-environment linkages in forest plant communities continue to be a frequent topic in ecological research. We studied the dependence of floristic and functional trait composition on environmental factors, namely local soil properties, overstory characteristics, climatic parameters and other abiotic and biotic variables. The study area comprised 50 monitoring plots across Slovenia, belonging to the EU ICP Forests monitoring network. Vegetation was surveyed in accordance with harmonized protocols, and environmental variables were either measured or estimated during vegetation sampling. Significant predictors of species composition were identified by canonical correspondence analysis. Correlations between plant traits, i.e. plant growth habit, life form, flowering features and CSR signature, were examined with fourth-corner analysis and linear regressions. Our results show that variation in floristic composition was mainly explained by climatic parameters (mean annual temperature, mean annual precipitation), soil properties (pH) and tree layer-dependent light conditions. Trait composition was most closely related with tree layer characteristics, such as shade-casting ability (SCA, a proxy for light availability in the understory layer), tree species richness and tree species composition. Amongst soil properties, total nitrogen content and soil texture (proportion of clay) were most frequently correlated with different species traits or trait states. The CSR signature of herb communities was associated with tree layer SCA, soil pH and mean annual temperature. The floristic composition of the studied herb-layer vegetation depended on temperature and precipitation, which are likely to be influenced by ongoing climate change (warming and drying). Trait composition exhibited significant links to tree layer characteristics and soil conditions, which are in turn directly modified by forest management interventions.
Keywords: vegetation–environment relationship, floristic composition, life-history traits, herbaceous species, Slovenia
Published in DiRROS: 15.04.2022; Views: 503; Downloads: 327
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