Response of Douglas-fir leaf area index and litterfall dynamics to Swiss needle cast in north coastal Oregon, USA
Sources of variation in leaf area index (LAI; m2 of projected leaf area per m2 of ground area) and its seasonal dynamics are not well known in managed Douglas-fir stands, despite the importance of leaf area in forecasting forest growth, particularly in stands impacted by insects or disease. The influence of Swiss needle cast (SNC) on coastal Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii [Mirb] Franco) LAI and litterfall dynamics was quantified by destructively sampling 122 stems from 36 different permanent plots throughout north coastal Oregon, USA, and by monitoring litterfall for 3 years in 15 of these plots. LAI, total annual litterfall, and the seasonal distribution of foliage and fine woody litterfall were all influenced by stand structural attributes, physiographic features, and SNC severity. Mean LAI in this study was 5.44 $pm $ 2.16. The relatively low LAIs were attributed primarily to the effects of SNC on foliage retention, and secondarily to its direct measurement by hierarchical foliage sampling in contrast to indirect measurement by light interception or tree allometry. For a given stand structure and SNC severity, LAI was 36% greater in the fall after current year foliage was fully developed and older aged classes had not yet senesced. Annual litterfall expressed as a proportion of LAI at the start of the growing season varied from 0.13 to 0.53 and declined with increasing initial LAI. SNC also shifted more of the annual foliage litterfall to earlier in the spring. Fine woody litterfall experienced a different seasonal shift as the peak occurred later in the year on sites with high SNC, but this only occurred on northerly aspects. Defoliation from the endemic SNC pathogen can drastically reduce LAI and change both total and seasonal foliage litterfall patterns.