A comparison of carbon sequestration potential and photosynthetic efficiency in evergreen and deciduous oaks growing in contrasting environments in the Southwest UK
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Global climate change is predicted to alter the weather patterns around the world, as climatic zones shift, forest carbon sequestration projects (e.g. the UK woodland carbon code) need to take into account the specific requirements of planted species. In the UK, oaks are an important charismatic group of trees favoured in recent planting programmes. The English oak (Quercus robur L.), has poor water conservation, but is a major component of natural forests in lowland UK. On the other hand, Holm oak (Quercus ilex L.) is a Mediterranean oak that has high water conservation and can also tolerate cold despite being restricted by minimum temperatures. At local scales, there may be advantages of planting either evergreen or deciduous oak species for forestry and climate mitigation. Alternatively, a comparative assessment of non native versus native productivity, may give clues to the invasiveness potential of Holm oak and its ability to out compete the deciduous oak along an urban to upland gradient. This thesis documents a series of field based experiments intended to analyse differences in carbon sequestration potential and photosynthetic efficiency between these two species and in relation to their environment within the Southwest UK. 520 one year saplings were planted, half in pots and half in nursery field beds situated on Dart- moor, the east Devon Dartmoor fringe, Totnes, and Plymouth city centre. Originally two sites were chosen for their relative ‘urban’ qualities, two at ‘rural’ localities, one upland and a control site with access to a polytunnel for comparisons with well-watered and non nutrient limited trees. However, data analyses showed that sapling characteristics were site specific with the five sites falling along an urban, rural to upland gradient. The field experiments included monthly height and diameters (ground level diameter or DAG), monthly assimilation rates and analy- sis of chlorophyll fluorescence to aid interpretation of photosystem II functioning and sapling ‘vitality’. Further laboratory experiments analysed specific leaf area (SLA), mass based leaf Nitrogen (Nleaf ) and carbon (Cleaf), with differences between sun and shade leaves included, to aid comparisons between species and sites. The final experiment was a destructive harvest and this was used to find total biomass estimates and carbon allocation to different root shoot fractions. In order to quantify differences between saplings and adult trees a smaller experiment was con- ducted in the canopy using experienced climbers and leaf level productivity analysed. Intrinsic water use (iWUE), stomatal conductance (Gs), means net assimilation rates (An) and chloro- phyll fluorescence parameters; Variable fluorescence over maximum fluorescence (Fv/Fm) and performance index (PI) were measured and relative carbon assimilation rates and productivity assessed and compared between species at one urban , rural and upland site. Results showed that Q. ilex allocated relatively more carbon to branches and leaves as a sapling which in turn increased growth rate and whole tree assimilation rates to larger values than the deciduous oak despite Q. robur being able to increase maximum assimilation rates in response to increasing temperatures. This gives Q. ilex the advantage and overall biomass was higher at all sites than Q. robur apart from the upland site where there were no differences in biomass accumulation between species. However, despite no significant difference in biomass at this site Q. robur had greater survival and photosystem II functioning. In mature trees Q. ilex was under stress and Nleaf and carbon sequestration potential were higher in the deciduous species at the urban site. In contrast, Q. robur was under stress at the upland site at Castle Drogo where thin and nutrient poor soils have made it more vulnerable to drought stress. Here, mature Q. ilex showed reduced photosynthetic efficiency in relation to cold and drought, but was able to recover when milder temperatures occurred. The results were site specific, with a reduction in both SLA and relative allocation to the leaf weight fraction (LWF) in Q.robur the only common urban related effect seen. The potential for Q. ilex to perform well at sapling stage is due to its morphological plasticity and drought tolerance. This species may become more prevalent within the Southwest as local climates continue to push it northwards from its natural Mediterranean range. In contrast, if Q. robur continues to suffer from defoliation and fungal attack and this may leave it more vulnerable to competition throughout less fertile and drier areas of its natural range.
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