How management intensity and neighborhood composition affect the structure of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) trees.
The intensity of silvicultural interventions and the composition of tree species are important forest management decisions. Both determine tree shape and thus influence the value of a tree, be it in terms of economy (trunk form, branchiness), or in terms of ecology (microhabitats). However, our knowledge on the distinct changes in tree architecture due to silvicultural management intensity or different neighborhood diversities is still limited, especially if the focus is on single tree attributes, e.g., branching patterns or crown shapes. We used terrestrial laser scanner data to calculate 25 structural measures for 55 European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) trees that grew either in pure stands along a gradient of management intensity or in intra or interspecific neighborhoods in unmanaged stands. We found a lower height of maximal horizontal crown extension, a higher crown surface area, and straighter trunks with increasing management intensity. Moreover, our study revealed that beech trees surrounded by valuable hardwoods showed a lower height of maximal horizontal crown extension, a lower height-diameter ratio, and longer branches with flatter branch angles than beech trees surrounded by conspecific neighbors. Our findings provide evidence of phenotypic plasticity of European beech to diverse environmental conditions. The differences in tree structure indicate an increasing crown competition with decreasing management intensity and stronger competitive pressure for beech surrounded by conspecific neighbors in comparison to alien neighbors.