Why don\'t our stands grow even faster? Control of production and carbon cycling in eucalypt plantations

  • MG Ryan USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 240 West Prospect Road, Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA
  • D Binkley Warner College of Natural Resources and Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins 80523-1472, USA
  • JL Stape Department of Forest Science, ESALQ, University of São Paulo, Piracicaba, SP CNPq 13418-970, Brazil


The growth of Eucalyptus stands varies several fold across sites, under the influence of resource availability, stand age and stand structure. We describe a series of related studies that aim to understand the mechanisms that drive this great range in stand growth rates. In a seven-year study in Hawaii of Eucalyptus saligna at a site that was not water limited, we showed that nutrient availability differences led to a two-fold difference in stand wood production. Increasing nutrient supply in mid-rotation raised productivity to the level attained in continuously fertilised plots. Fertility affected the age-related decline in wood and foliage production; production in the intensive fertility treatments declined more slowly than in the minimal fertility treatments. The decline in stem production was driven largely by a decline in canopy photosynthesis. Over time, the fraction of canopy photosynthesis partitioned to below-ground allocation increased, as did foliar respiration, further reducing wood production. The reason for the decline in photosynthesis was uncertain, but it was not caused by nutrient limitation, a decline in leaf area or in photosynthetic capacity, or by hydraulic limitation. Most of the increase in carbon stored from conversion of the sugarcane plantation to Eucalyptus plantation was in the above-ground woody biomass. Soil carbon showed no net change. This study and other studies on carbon allocation showed that resource availability changes the fraction of annual photosynthesis used below-ground and for wood production. High resources (nutrition or water) decrease the partitioning below-ground and increase partitioning to wood production. Annual foliage and wood respiration and foliage production as a fraction of annual photosynthesis was remarkably constant across a wide range of fertility treatments and forest age. In the Brazil Eucalyptus Productivity Project, stand structure was manipulated by planting clonal Eucalyptus all at once or in three groups at three-monthly intervals, producing a stand where trees did not segregate into dominants and one that had strong dominance. The uneven stand structure reduced production 10–15% throughout the rotation.

Keywords: age-related productivity decline; carbon allocation; forest production ecology; nutrition

Southern Forests 2008, 70(2): 99–104

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2070-2639
print ISSN: 2070-2620