Nurse trees as a forest restoration tool for mixed plantations: Effects on competing vegetation and performance in target tree species
Multi-species mixed plantations can be designed to meet social, economic, and environmental objectives during forest restoration. This paper reports results from an experiment in southern Sweden concerning the influence of three different fast growing nurse tree species on the cover of herbaceous vegetation and on the performance of several target tree species. After 10 years, the nurse trees had reduced the competing herbaceous vegetation but the effect was weak and it may take more than a decade to achieve effective vegetation control. The nurse tree species Betula pendula and Larix x eurolepis did improve stem form in some target tree species, but had a minor effect on survival and growth. The open conditions before crown closure of nurse trees strongly influence seedling performance and so delayed planting of target tree species may provide a means to avoid those conditions. Survival and growth differed greatly among the tree species. Besides the two nurse tree species mentioned above, high survival was found in Picea abies and Quercus robur and intermediate survival in Fagus sylvatica, Tilia cordata, and in the N-fixing nurse tree Alnus glutinosa. Survival was low in the target tree species Fraxinus excelsior L. and Prunus avium. For restoration practitioners, our results illustrate the potential of using nurse trees for rapidly building a new forest structure and simultaneously increase productivity, which might be a cost-effective strategy for forest restoration.