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Microclimate in Mediterranean pine forests: What is the influence of the shrub layer?

  • Prévosto, Bernard
  • Helluy, Manon
  • Gavinet, Jordane
  • Fernandez, Catherine
  • Balandier, Philippe
Publication Date
Mar 15, 2020
DOI: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2019.107856
OAI: oai:HAL:hal-02569242v1
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Forest cover creates a specific microclimate by buffering most environmental variables. If the influence of the overstory on microclimatic variables has been well studied, the role of the understory has received less attention. In this study we investigated how the shrub layer modifies solar radiation, air temperature (T), relative air humidity (RH), vapor pressure deficit (VPD) and soil moisture under different thinning treatments in an Aleppo pine forest (Pinus halepensis Mill.). Microclimatic variables were measured along a vegetation cover gradient made up of three pine densities (dense, medium, low) and open conditions, with or without the presence of shrubs. The results were analysed with a focus on the summer period which represents a major bottleneck for plant development in the Mediterranean area. Average T and VPD values increased with decreasing vegetation cover (+1.38°C and +0.21 kPa for the whole year) while RH decreased (-2.34%). Along the same gradient, daily amplitude of T, RH, VPD increased while the buffering capacity decreased. These patterns were more pronounced during the summer period compared to the whole year and were primarily driven by overstory transmittance. However, the shrub layer played a significant role in the low pine cover treatment where it was developed and in open conditions. Soil water content in the forest area was higher under low pine cover without shrubs than it was in the other treatments, though differences were less marked during summer drought episodes. In open conditions, soil moisture was always significantly lower beneath the shrub canopy than outside it. Despite a reduction in soil moisture, shrubs may represent safe sites for woody seedling development in sparse pine forests and in treeless areas by buffering the microclimate during the summer period.

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