iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Use of δ13C as water stress indicator and potential silvicultural decision support tool in Pinus radiata stand management in South Africa

Phillip M Fischer (1-2), Ben du Toit (1)   

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages 51-60 (2019)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor2628-011
Published: Jan 24, 2019 - Copyright © 2019 SISEF

Research Articles

In this study, the carbon isotope ratio in tree rings was investigated as a potential measure of water availability and drought stress in Pinus radiata stands in South Africa. An understanding of water availability and its variation in space is fundamental to the implementation of increasingly site-specific management regimes that have the potential to improve stand productivity. Fourteen plantation compartments, situated on water shedding (convex) terrain were identified where reliable weather data existed and a water balance model could be run. This output was used to derive water stress indicators: (a) relative canopy conductance (gc/gcmax) and (b) the ratio of actual to potential evapotranspiration (ETa/ETp). The water stress indicators (calculated per year of growth) were related to δ13C values in five tree rings formed in the five years before mid-rotation thinning took place. The water balance model used adequately described soil water availability throughout each growing season and indicated that most severe stand water stress occurred during the summer months of the study period (November to April). The ETa/ETp ratio for this period as well as the relative canopy conductance proved to be good measures of water stress. The 5-year averages of the ETa/ETp ratios (taken over the driest 6 month period) ranged from 0.17 to 0.32 (winter rainfall zone) and 0.44 to 0.70 (all-year rainfall zone). The 5-year averages of ETa/ETp ratios could be accurately predicted (p< 0.0001; adjusted r2 = 0.83) with multiple regression using δ13C values in whole-wood samples (i.e., earlywood and latewood) and the site index of stands (where site index is the average height of the dominant 20% trees in the stand at base age 20). The δ13C values in tree rings across the planted range of P. radiata in South Africa can therefore be used to identify broad categories of water availability for purposes of increasingly site-specific silvicultural management.


Stable Carbon Isotope, Tree Rings, Water Availability, Drought Stress, Site-specific Forest Management, Monterey Pine

Authors’ address

Phillip M Fischer
Ben du Toit
Department of Forest and Wood Science, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland, Stellenbosch, 7602 (South Africa)
Phillip M Fischer
Sappi Forests (Pty) Ltd, P.O. Box 372, Ngodwana, 1209 (South Africa)

Corresponding author

Ben du Toit


Fischer PM, du Toit B (2019). Use of δ13C as water stress indicator and potential silvicultural decision support tool in Pinus radiata stand management in South Africa. iForest 12: 51-60. - doi: 10.3832/ifor2628-011

Academic Editor

Tamir Klein

Paper history

Received: Sep 08, 2017
Accepted: Nov 15, 2018

First online: Jan 24, 2019
Publication Date: Feb 28, 2019
Publication Time: 2.33 months

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