Forest structure and regeneration of the Tertiary relict Taiwania cryptomerioides in the Gaoligong Mountains, Yunnan, southwestern China
He, Long-Yuan; Tang, Cindy Q.; Wu, Zhao-Lu; Wang, Huan-Chong; Ohsawa, Masahiko; Yan, Kai
We studied forests containing Taiwania cryptomerioides of various ages and habitats on the eastern slopes of the Gaoligong Mountains in terms of forest structure and composition, population structure (size, age), regeneration patterns, and persistence of the species in relation to their favored habitats. Taiwania thrives in unstable habitats on riverbanks in deep valleys, on steep slopes, on cliffs, on roadsides and by mountain paths at the altitudes of 1175-2500 m a.s.l. All these locations were subject to frequent landslides, whereas Taiwania was very rare at similar altitudes on stable gentle slopes or on mountain ridges free of major disturbances. The maximum age of Taiwania was calculated to be c. 1,872 yr, with 358 cm DBH (diameter at a height of 1.3 m) and 70 m high. The size and age classes of Taiwania in old-growth forests were multimodal, indicating that the regeneration varied by chance, depending on disturbances. In the old-growth forests where above-ground competition for light was intense, shade-intolerant and long-lived coniferous Taiwania became emergent (40–70 m), rising above a forest canopy comprised of more shade-tolerant evergreen broad-leaved trees. The reproduction of the species was mainly by means of minute wind-dispersed seeds falling into rock crevices on cliffs or a rocky forest floor, or on disturbed sites. These populations depended on disturbances or gap regeneration to survive. Taiwania gave way to evergreen broad-leaved tree species of Lithocarpus, Cyclobalanopsis, and Manglietia, and to other conifers such as Tsuga dumosa, where landslides were infrequent. Our results provide insights into the ecological characteristics and survival mechanisms of this East Asian paleoendemic conifer, and contribute to our understanding of the differentiation of forests.