Managers of protection forests in the European Alps are confronted with major challenges regarding the regeneration of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) in the subalpine zone. Many dense and even-aged forests have evolved following the cessation of mountain forest over-exploitation in the 19th century. Current silvilcultural practices are aimed at opening forest gaps to enhance conditions that promote seedling germination, seedling establishment, and sapling growth. While the establishment of conifer seedlings is fairly well understood, much less quantitative knowledge is available concerning the environmental and biological factors that affect sapling mortality and growth, especially in snow-rich environments. The present proposal aims to fill this information gap by focusing on Norway spruce sapling mortality and growth in Swiss subalpine forests as affected by biological disturbance agents and abiotic factors that are at least partly influenced by the duration of snow.
We propose in this PhD research project to (1) evaluate the response of sapling mortality and growth to the timing of spring snowmelt and (2) to quantify abiotic and biotic influences mediated by snow on sapling mortality and growth. The design of our research project involves two tiers of analysis. First, we observe the response of sapling mortality and growth to snow duration in two valleys of the north-central Swiss Alps. Second, we conduct a planting experiment in one of these areas to isolate the effect of ungulate browsing and snow mold infection, as mediated by the snow environment, on sapling growth. Pathway analysis, multiple linear regression, and logistic regression modeling will be used to analyze field data. The research results are expected to produce a clearer picture of snow's multi-faceted role in influencing spruce sapling mortality and growth. Recent concern of global climate change effects on biota has driven the need for increased research on the ecological response of vegetation in mountain forests to diverse snow regimes.
Contact: Catherine Cunningham, Prof. Dr.Harald Bugmann
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