Is tree age or tree size reducing height increment in Abies alba Mill. at its southernmost distribution limit?

Conventional methods for estimating the current annual increment of stand volume are based on the uncertain assumption that height increment decreases with tree age. Conversely, size, rather than age, should be accounted for the observed senescence-related declines in relative growth rate and, consequently, implemented in silvicultural manuals. Results stem from a study on Abies alba Mill. at its southern limit of distribution.

Context Many factors limit height increment when age and size increase in large-statured tree species. Height–diameter allometric relationships are commonly used measures of tree growth.
Aims In this study, we tested if tree age was the main factor affecting the reduction in height increment of silver fir trees (Abies alba Mill.), verifying also whether tree size had a significant role in ecophysiological-biomechanical limitations to tree growth.
Methods The study was carried out in a silver fir forest located in Southern Italy, at the southernmost distribution limit for this species. Through a stratified random sampling, 100 trees were selected. All the selected trees were then felled and the total tree height, height increments (internode distances), diameter at breast height, and diameter increments (ring widths) were measured.
Results The analyses of allometric models and scaling coefficients showed that the correlation between tree age and height increment was not always significant.
Conclusion We may conclude that tree age did not statistically explain the decrease in height increment in older trees. Instead, the increase in tree size and related physiological processes (expressed as product between diameter at breast height and tree height) explained the reduction in height increment in older trees and was the main factor limiting height growth trends in marginal population of silver fir.

Abies alba Mill, Allometry, Apennines, Dendro-auxometry, Height increment, Tree size

Marziliano, P.A., Tognetti, R. & Lombardi, F. Annals of Forest Science (2019) 76: 17.

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Data availability
The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the Zenodo repository (Marziliano et al. 2018). Marziliano PA, Tognetti R, Lombardi F (2018) Is tree age or tree size reducing height increment in Abies alba Mill. at its southernmost distribution limit? V2. Zenodo. [Dataset].

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