Spatial structure along an altitudinal gradient in the Italian central Alps suggests competition and facilitation among coniferous species

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What is the structure of the anthropogenic upper forest-grassland ecotone and are there differences in the spatial relationships between the tree species involved?


Valfurva Valley, Italian central Alps.


We conducted a spatial distribution and structure analysis in three 1-ha permanent plots along an altitudinal gradient, from the treeline to the sub-alpine forest. We reconstructed the age structure from cores from each individual with diameter > 4 cm at 50 cm height.


All tree species and age classes examined had a clumped structure. The cluster tendency was more evident at the treeline where the environmental conditions are more severe. In the sub-alpine forest there was a repulsion between Pinus cembra and Pinus mugo but at the treeline P. cembra was frequently found downslope from P. mugo.


Although human influence has been the main driving force in shaping the present forest structure, in the last few decades natural dynamics have become the predominant force acting on forest structure and processes, showing a higher magnitude as altitude increases. Our results emphasize the existence of facilitating and interfering mechanisms between different species. P. cembra seems to be favoured compared to the other tree species.

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