The cork oak (Quercus suber L.) is harvested for its bark (cork), a highly valuable non-timber forest product. Recurrent cork harvesting is practiced over the lifetime of the tree and constitutes a stressful action that, while artificially promoting cork growth, may severely deplete tree vigor after an exploitation time span. To date, few long-term studies have been conducted regarding the effect of recurrent cork harvests on cork growth rates, and there is a complete lack of knowledge on the effect of the stress, induced by cork harvesting, on the vigor of the cork oak. In this study we propose to address the resilience of the cork oak to cork harvesting, using cork-ring width as an indicator of tree vigor. We use dendrochronological methods to develop an extended cork-ring width series that was analyzed by autoregressive integrated moving average modeling with an intervention analysis approach. We show that cork harvesting represents a human-induced loss of tree resilience only after six consecutive harvests, and that only after a single stochastic cork-harvesting event may trigger a sudden collapse in cork oak vigor. Our results also suggest that the tree (optimum) exploitation period of 110-120 years, which includes more than nine consecutive harvests, extends more than 35 years beyond the tree vigor breakpoint (occurring at the sixth consecutive harvest). Within this time frame, the tree is producing cork instinctively to survive, and its vulnerability to other (a)biotic stresses may increase, leading to untimely cork oak decline. These results suggest that there is a great potential in the time-series analysis of cork-ring widths for the development of tools that may enhance typical cork oak management planning by addressing both economic and ecological objectives.
- Non-timber forest product
- ARIMA modeling
- ever-green cork oak woodlands
- RADIAL GROWTH