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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Functional traits of individual varieties as determinants of growth and nitrogen use patterns in mixed stands of willow (Salix spp.)

Weih, Martin; Nordh, Nils-Erik; Manzoni, Stefano; Hoeber, Stefanie


Short rotation plantations of willows (Salix spp.) have high biomass production potential in many parts of the world, and may frequently support ecosystem services related to nutrient cycling. A plantation management enhancing favorable environmental impacts that are conducive to maintaining ecosystem services is a main challenge in establishing sustainable biomass production systems. There is evidence supporting the hypothesis that biomass production and nutrient cycling can be increased by supporting ecosystem niche differentiation (complementarity) through enhancing the number of plant species or varieties grown in the stand. However, the specific trait values of the individual components (e.g., varieties) in a mixed community could also be more important than the community diversity per se. We assessed, at community level, the plant trait profiles related to growth and nitrogen (N) use for four different Salix varieties that were taxonomically distinct at species or genotype level ('Bjorn', 'Jorr', 'Loden', 'Tora') and field-grown in unfertilized plots of pure and mixed commu-nities during one cutting cycle in Central Sweden. The aims were to use elements of functional growth analysis for exploring the mechanistic relationships between various traits related to growth and N use at stand level in our pure and mixed willow communities; and to address two hypotheses related to (i) the effect of diversity level on above-ground traits linked to growth, N uptake efficiency, N productivity and N conservation; and (ii) the influence of individual variety identities on the growth and N use traits observed in a mixture. Diversity level had no significant effect on the traits assessed here, and we thus found no evidence in support of our hypothesis that traits linked to growth, N uptake and use are significantly affected by the diversity level per se. In most but not all cases, the admixing effects on trait values were explained by the effects of the individual variety characteristics assessed in monocultures in combination with their relative share in the respective mixtures. The absence or presence of individual varieties strongly affected community-averaged (stand level) trait values. Therefore, the design of desirable variety mixtures is suggested that combine, for example, the high nutrient conversion efficiency that certain varieties achieve in mixed stands with the specific nutrient acquisition characteristics of other varieties.


Biomass production; Functional traits; Growth analysis; Nitrogen use efficiency; Short rotation forestry; Variety mixtures

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2021, Volume: 479, article number: 118605
Publisher: ELSEVIER