Effects of establishment fertilization on Landsat-assessed leaf area development of loblolly pine stands


Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) plantations in the southeastern United States are among the world's most intensively managed forest plantations. Under intensive management, a common practice is fertilizing at establishment. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of establishment fertilization on leaf area development of loblolly pine plantation stands (n = 3997) over 16 years compared to stands that did not receive nutrient additions at planting. Leaf area index (LAI) is a meaningful biophysical indicator of vigor and an important functional and structural element of a planted stand. The study area was stratified by plant hardiness zone to account for climatic differences and soil type (texture and drainage class), using the Cooperative Research in Forest Fertilization (CRIFF) groupings. LAI was estimated from Landsat imagery to create trajectories of mean stand LAI over 16 years. Establishment fertilization, on average, (1) increased stand LAI beginning at year two, with a peak at years six and seven, and (2) decreased the time required for a stand to reach a winter LAI of 1.5 by almost two years. Fertilization responses varied by climate zone and soil drainage class, where the warmest zones benefited the most, particularly in poorly drained soils. Past year 10, the differences in LAI between fertilized and unfertilized stands were not practically important. Using Landsat data in a cloud-computing environment, we demonstrated the benefits of establishment fertilization to stand LAI development using a large sample over the native range of loblolly pine.

Remote sensing, Loblolly pine, Google Earth Engine, Leaf area index, Establishment fertilization, Pine plantations