Small-scale variation in available water capacity of the soil influences height growth of single trees in Southern Germany

  • Karl H. MELLERT Bavarian Office for Forest Genetics [Bayerisches Amt für Waldgenetik]. Forstamtsplatz 1, 83317 Teisendorf, Germany
  • Gerhard SCHMIED Chair for Forest Growth and Yield Science, Center of Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan, Technical University of Munich, Hans‑Carl‑von‑Carlowitz‑Platz 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
  • Vincent BUNESS Bavarian State Institute of Forestry, Hans‑Carl‑von‑Carlowitz‑Platz 1, 85354 Freising, Germany
  • Mathias STECKEL Forst Baden‑Württemberg (AöR), Forstbezirk Ulmer Alb, Schloßstr. 34, 89079 Ulm‑Wiblingen, Germany
  • Enno UHL Chair for Forest Growth and Yield Science, Center of Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan, Technical University of Munich, Hans‑Carl‑von‑Carlowitz‑Platz 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
  • Muhidin ŠEHO Bavarian Office for Forest Genetics [Bayerisches Amt für Waldgenetik]. Forstamtsplatz 1, 83317 Teisendorf, Germany
  • Hans PRETZSCH Chair for Forest Growth and Yield Science, Center of Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan, Technical University of Munich, Hans‑Carl‑von‑Carlowitz‑Platz 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
Keywords: climatic niche, environmental niche, forest genetic studies, microsite, plus tree selection, soil water regime, tree breeding


Aim of study: Detecting possible small-scale soil effects on height growth of single trees in monospecific stands of three important tree species (Abies alba, Fagus sylvatica, and Picea abies).

Area of study: 37 mature stands along an ecological gradient in Southern Germany from the cold and wet “optimal niche zone” to warmer and drier niche zones, including gravelly soils with poor water supply.

Material and methods: Measurement of achieved height and age of 15 to 20 sample trees per stand. Estimation of the available water capacity of the soil (AWC) in close proximity to sample trees based on soil texture following the German soil survey guidelines. Examining height growth depending on niche zone and AWC.  

Main results: On sites (stand level) with the lowest water regime, height growth increased significantly with AWC of microsites. The estimated effect on height growth over the whole range of AWC values was almost 8 m at those sites. In contrast, the effect was negative on optimal sites. For intermediate and marginal sites, the effect was positive, albeit not significant for marginal sites.

Research highlights: To our knowledge this is the first study about small-scale effects of AWC on height growth of single trees in temperate European forests. Small-scale soil variability should be considered in future scientific studies and practical evaluation, involving single tree performance at stands with low water regime. This seems particularly important in genetic environmental associations studies and in the process of selecting trees for breeding purposes in such stands.


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How to Cite
MELLERT, K. H., SCHMIED, G., BUNESS, V., STECKEL, M., UHL, E., ŠEHO, M., & PRETZSCH, H. (2023). Small-scale variation in available water capacity of the soil influences height growth of single trees in Southern Germany. Forest Systems, 32(2), e013.
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