Gap-phase regeneration is an important process in mature forests. Trees grow in the gaps left after large canopy trees die and fall. The diagram shows an example from a central North Island conifer–broadleaf forest.
The mature forest is dominated by large conifers (mataī, tōtara, miro, and rimu), which grow above a canopy of tawa and kāmahi. When a large conifer falls to the ground, it leaves a gap in the forest. Tree ferns are the first to fill the gap (1). Later, kāmahi grows up and suppresses the tree ferns (2). Seedling conifers grow under the kāmahi, and tawa establishes around the edges of the gap. The young conifers grow rapidly (3), eventually overtopping kāmahi and tawa, to complete the progression to a conifer-dominant forest. The entire cycle takes 500–700 years.
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Artwork by Gareth Railton
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Source: John Dawson, Forest vines to snow tussocks: the story of New Zealand plants. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1988