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Forest Vines to Snow Tussocks: The Story of New Zealand Plants

Beech Forest Regeneration

Beech Forest Regeneration

The species of southern beech are all relatively light-demanding. Seedlings may establish on better-lit parts of the forest floor but then 'stand still' until more light is available from the death of a canopy tree or as a result of more extensive openings caused by violent gales. Such openings or clearings may soon be filled by a dense 'crop' of vigorous young beech trees.

Where beech forest is destroyed by fire followed by the establishment of manuka and/or kanuka, then there is sufficient light at ground level for beech to become established, grow strongly and, in time, to overtop and shade out the pioneers.

Relationships of the New Zealand Beech Forests

Unlike the New Zealand conifer broadleaf forest, beech forest shows few similarities with tropical rain forest. Indeed its simpler structure fewer species and general lack of vascular epiphytes and lianes, linked page 132with the relationship of the dominant trees with true beech of the northern hemisphere, might indicate a vegetational affinity with north temperate deciduous forest.

New Zealand beech forest, however, differs from north temperate deciduous forest in certain respects. The leaves of the trees are evergreen and relatively small. The forest generally occupies infertile sites and forms a slowly decomposing, low-nutrient leaf litter which, because of its acidity, accelerates leaching and further reduces soil fertility. North temperate deciduous forest, on the other hand, generally occupies more fertile soils and forms a rapidly decomposing leaf litter, high in nutrients, which tends to improve the fertility of the soil.

In the respects in which New Zealand and other southern hemisphere beech forests differ from north temperate deciduous forest, there is a fair measure of agreement with the vast coniferous forests of high northern latitudes. This has led to the suggestion that these two forest types of cooler infertile sites in the two hemispheres are approximate ecological equivalents.99

However, as there are a number of deciduous species of Nothofagus in South America and one in Tasmania, it might be truer to say that Nothofagus forest lies somewhere between the north temperate deciduous and coniferous forests. Within New Zealand, in terms of nutrient demand and leaf size, red beech would come closest to the former and mountain beech to the latter.