Seedling survival and growth of three forest tree species: The role of spatial heterogeneity
Spatial heterogeneity in microenvironments may provide unique regeneration niches for trees and may promote forest diversity. We examined how heterogeneity in understory cover, mineral nutrients, and moisture and their interactions with canopy gaps contribute to the coexistence of three common, co-occuring tree species. We measured survival and height growth of 1080 seedlings of Acer rubrum (red maple), Liriodendron tulipifera (yellow poplar), and Quercus rubra (red oak) that were planted in one of five understory treatments: removal of understory vegetation, trenched, trenched plus removal of understory vegetation, fertilization, and a control. Understory treatments were replicated in 12 paired gap and canopy environments. Survivorship varied among species, with Q. rubra having the highest probability of surviving beyond the 1135-day experiment (probability = 0.64), followed by A. rubrum (probability = 0.27) and L. tulipifera (probability = 0.07). Although canopy gaps and understory treatments had large effects on survivorship, species survival rankings changed little across microenvironments; Q. rubra had the highest survival in all microenvironments. In contrast to survival, L. tulipifera had a relative growth rate for height that was three times greater than that of A. rubrum and Q. rubra in high-resource microenvironments. There was broad overlap among species in relative growth rates in trie remaining seven microenvironments, with no clear top-ranked species. Differences in seedling growth and survival across these 10 microenvironments may contribute to the coexistence of two of the three species studied, L. tulipifera and Q. rubra, but not A. rubrum, Q. rubra had higher survival than A. rubrum and L. tulipifera in all microenvironments, but L. tulipifera tended to grow faster than A. rubrum and Q. rubra in high-resource microenvironments. Despite the generally poor performance of A. rubrum, it was the only surviving species in some quadrats at the end of the experiment, indicating that stochastic effects, in conjunction with broad niche overlap, may also contribute to species coexistence. The importance of stochastic effects will probably increase when differential fecundity across these three species is considered because the high fecundity of A. rubrum offsets survival and growth disadvantages of its seedlings through their greater total abundance.
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