New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2023) 47(1): 3509

Growth rates and ages of some key tree species from subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands

Research Article
Jonathan G. Palmer 1*
Chris S. M. Turney 1,2
Zoë A. Thomas 1
Pavla Fenwick 3
Sarah J. Richardson 4
Janet M. Wilmshurst 4,5
Matt S. McGlone 4
  1. Chronos 14Carbon-Cycle Facility, and the Earth and Sustainability Science Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  2. Division of Research, University of Technology Sydney, NSW 2007, Australia
  3. Gondwana Tree-Ring Laboratory, 9A Poulson St., Christchurch, New Zealand
  4. Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, Lincoln, New Zealand
  5. School of Environment, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Interspecific variation in tree growth rate and maximum age is central to understanding and predicting the dynamics of forest ecosystems. While there are abundant sources of this information for economically important New Zealand timber species and other common tree species, data for trees from subantarctic environments are almost entirely lacking. Here we present measurements of growth from Auckland and Campbell Islands for three species: Metrosideros umbellata (southern rātā; Myrtaceae, n = 1 site), a canopy dominant; Dracophyllum sp. (inaka; Ericaceae, n = 5 sites), a widespread small tree; and Olearia lyallii (tūpare, subantarctic tree daisy; Asteraceae, n = 2 sites), a species native to Snares Island that has naturalised on the Auckland Islands. Our data showed large differences in tree growth rates among and within species across islands. Growth rates varied eight-fold (i.e. from 0.34 mm yr−1 to 2.78 mm yr−1), being greatest in Olearia lyallii, least in Dracophyllum sp. and intermediate in Metrosideros umbellata. Comparisons of the five Dracophyllum sites suggest that these trees experience reduced growth rates and reach older ages when in competition with the bigger southern rātā (M. umbellata) trees, possibly due to the larger southern rātā providing protection from wind-throw. Measurements of resprouted southern rātā trees showed a variable juvenile-phase radial growth rate, highlighting the need for caution in extrapolating the likely ages of bigger trees. Remeasured individuals of Olearia lyallii growing among taller southern rātā trees showed slow growth rates compared to much faster rates seen in a nearby monospecific stand. Overall, the variability in growth seen by all three species illustrates that tree size cannot be used to indicate age in these subantarctic islands.