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Natural and anthropogenic influences on coarse woody debris stocks in Nothofagus–Araucaria forests of northern Patagonia, Argentina

Szymañski, Carolina, Fontana, Gisela, Sanguinetti, Javier
Austral ecology 2017 v.42 no.1 pp. 48-60
Araucaria araucana, Nothofagus antarctica, Nothofagus pumilio, anthropogenic activities, biodiversity, branches, coarse woody debris, dieback, ecological resilience, fire frequency, fire history, forest ecosystems, forest types, fuelwood, grazing, humans, insects, landscapes, livestock, snags, topography, trees, watersheds, windthrow, Argentina
Coarse woody debris (CWD) is an important element driving ecological processes, strengthening ecosystem resilience and for biodiversity within forest ecosystems. However, the abundance and distribution of CWD and their relation to natural and human factors are poorly known in southern South America. In this work we studied the density and volume of CWD types in Nothofagus–Araucaria stands in northern Patagonia (Neuquén – Argentina) and relationships with forest composition and structure. We also studied their relationships with fire history, topography and human‐related variables. Twenty‐three stands with Nothofagus pumilio, Nothofagus antarctica and/or Araucaria araucana were sampled to estimate quantities of logs, snags and dead branches using the planar‐intersect method. CWD density and volume in these forests were moderate and varied across the landscape with a spatial pattern determined by biotic, abiotic and human use–related variables. Mean CWD volume was 52.9 m³ ha⁻¹ (range: 1.6–143.7) and significantly varied among forest types and watersheds. CWD was positively related to dbh, tree height and slope, but negatively related to tree density. CWD was clearly influenced by composition and structural characteristics of stands, where the tree species traits had an important role. As well, the observed amount and type of CWD, whereby most of the stands showed low levels of old (pre‐disturbance) logs/snags and poor new inputs of deadwood, may be explained by fire frequency. Firewood gathering and livestock grazing negatively affected deadwood stocks and topography counteracts this effect by limiting human access. Fire disturbance history, windthrow and dieback pulses produced by insect outbreaks and human access seemed to be the main causes that best explained CWD spatial distribution and abundance patterns in north‐western Patagonian forests.