Some lessons learned on early survival and growth of containerized, locally-sourced ponderosa pine seedlings in the Davis Mountains of western Texas, US
The ponderosa pine forests in the Davis Mountains of western Texas recently experienced a major mortality event caused, in part, by an extended regional drought that predisposed trees and stands to mortality from both western pine beetle and wildfires. The loss of many overstory pines and the scarcity of natural ponderosa pine regeneration pose a considerable challenge to restoration. A commissioned study investigated artificial regeneration using containerized ponderosa pine seedlings with multiple planting seasons and vegetation management alternatives. Early survival was statistically greater for dormant season plantings than monsoon season plantings. Vegetation management treatments influenced early growth, survival, and herbivory rates. Physical weed control, which consisted of fibrous weed mats around the base of planted seedlings, showed early advantages over some vegetation management treatments in growth, survival and herbivory deterrence, but all vegetation management treatments had similar survival and herbivory results after 2.5 years. Early survival was poor in all treatments, mainly due to herbivory, which was identified as the principal short-term obstacle to artificial regeneration of ponderosa pine in the Davis Mountains. The larger question regarding feasibility of recovery in this isolated population, particularly if local climatic conditions become increasingly unfavorable, remains.