Management intensification maintains wood production over multiple harvests in tropical Eucalyptus plantations.
Plantation forestry, in which trees are grown as a crop, must maintain wood production over repeated harvest cycles (rotations) to meet global wood demands on a limited land area. We analyze 33 yr of Landsat observations across the world's most productive forestry system, Eucalyptus plantations in southeastern Brazil, to assess long-term regional trends in wood production. We apply a simple algorithm to time series of the vegetation index NIRv in thousands of Eucalyptus stands to detect the starts and ends of rotations. We then estimate wood production in each identified stand and rotation, based on a statistical relationship between NIRv trajectories and inventory data from three plantation companies. We also compare Eucalyptus NIRv with that of surrounding native vegetation to assess the relative influence of management and environment on plantation productivity trends. Across more than 3,500 stands with three complete rotations between 1984 and 2016, modeled wood volume decreased significantly between the first and second rotation, but recovered at least partially in the third; mean wood volumes for the three rotations were 262, 228, and 247 m3 /ha. This nonlinear trend reflects intensifying plantation management, as rotation length decreased by an average of 15% (decreasing wood volume per rotation) and NIRv proxies of tree growth rates increased (increasing volume) between the first and third rotation. However, NIRv also increased significantly over time in unmanaged vegetation around the plantations, suggesting that environmental trends affecting all vegetation also contribute to sustaining wood production. Management inputs will likely continue to be important for maintaining wood production in future harvests.
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