Non-linear growth in tree ferns, Dicksonia antarctica and Cyathea australis

David P. Blair, Wade Blanchard, Sam C. Banks, David B. Lindenmayer

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Abstract

Tree ferns are an important structural component of forests in many countries. However, because their regeneration is often unrelated to major disturbances, their age is often difficult to determine. In addition, rates of growth may not be uniform, which further complicates attempts to determine their age. In this study, we measured 5 years of growth of Cyathea australis and Dicksonia antarctica after a large wildfire in 2009 in south-eastern Australia. We found growth rates of these two species were unaffected by aspect and elevation but slope had a minor effect with D. antarctica growing 0.3mm faster for each additional degree of slope. Geographic location influenced growth in both species by up to 12 ± 14mm/yr. The most consistent factor influencing growth rate, however, was initial height at the time of the 2009 fire; a finding consistent in both species and all geographic locations. For both tree fern species, individuals that were taller at the commencement of the study had greater overall growth for the duration of the study. This effect did not decrease even among the tallest tree ferns in our study (up to 6 metres tall). Overall, Cyathea australis averaged 73 (± 22)mm/year of growth (± 1SD), with the rate increasing 5mm/yr per metre of additional height. Dicksonia antarctica averaged 33 (± 13)mm/year, increasing by 6mm/yr/m. Growth rates dependent on initial height were unexpected and we discuss possible reasons for this finding. Variable growth rates also suggest that common age estimation methods of dividing height by average growth rate are likely to underestimate the age of short tree ferns, while overestimating the age of tall tree ferns, particularly if they have been subject to a fire.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0176908
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS One
Volume12
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2017
Externally publishedYes

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