Does size matter for restoring ecosystems?


The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2021-2030 the decade of ecosystem restoration. The planting of tree species will play a fundamental role in this effort and, for this, knowing the direction and magnitude of the effect of seedling size on their survival in transplanting is of vital importance.

This study is the one undertaken by an international team of scientists, including a researcher from the ETS of Forestry, Forestry and Natural Environmental Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), which has shown that, for forest restoration projects in globally scale are successful, it is better to use larger plants as their survival is higher than smaller ones.

The study was published in the journal Ecological applications, and consisted of a meta-analysis of the scientific and technical literature on forest restoration worldwide. The results of more than 200 surveys were analysed, covering 86 species, mainly trees, and 142 plantation sites spread over all continents except Antarctica.

Since the 1950s, numerous studies have analyzed the relationship between the morphological characteristics of plants and their survival once planted. However, there was no consensus on the relationship between plant height at planting and subsequent survival in the field. The results of this study clarify this historical debate and conclude that there is a positive relationship between plant size and survival.

pruning for plants

According to Juan A. Oliet, co-author of the research at UPM, “The results of this work not only have an impact on the implementation of restoration projects, but also on the development of protocols for the production of forest seedlings in nurseries according to the characteristics of the species and the climate of the site of planting ». Other factors that influence this “success formula” of forest restoration and highlighted by the study carried out are the climate of the planting site, the functional characteristics of the plants and their resistance to stress, which modulate the relationship between the size of the plant and its survival.

The authors of the book also point out that the recommendation to use a taller plant for forest restoration does not imply dimensions such as gardening or landscaping, but production following conventional forest nursery protocols. , but in which, by fertilization, planting date, crop densities or container size, restocking plants of larger size and with greater nutritional reserves are obtained.

Likewise, “in the case of dry or semi-arid areas (Mediterranean areas of the Iberian Peninsula, for example) the size effect is as intense as in other biomes, so the results of the work also generally recommend the use great plants in the forest restoration of our mountains, and particularly when softwood species are used”, he concludes. Olivier.

To research

The research was carried out by the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and the University of Alcalá (UAH). In addition to these Spanish universities (including the UPM), participated in the research: Lancaster University, University of Belgrade, Beijing Forestry University, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Center for Applied Ecology and Sustainability (CAPES), the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Nature Conservation and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

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