, Volume 170, Issue 3, pp 755-765
Date: 29 May 2012

Effects of local biotic neighbors and habitat heterogeneity on tree and shrub seedling survival in an old-growth temperate forest

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Seedling dynamics play a crucial role in determining species distributions and coexistence. Exploring causes of variation in seedling dynamics can therefore provide key insights into the factors affecting these phenomena. We examined the relative importance of biotic neighborhood processes and habitat heterogeneity using survival data for 5,827 seedlings in 39 tree and shrub species over 2 years from an old-growth temperate forest in northeastern China. We found significant negative density-dependence effects on survival of tree seedlings, and limited effects of habitat heterogeneity (edaphic and topographic variables) on survival of shrub seedlings. The importance of negative density dependence on young tree seedling survival was replaced by habitat in tree seedlings ≥4 years old. As expected, negative density dependence was more apparent in gravity-dispersed species compared to wind-dispersed and animal-dispersed species. Moreover, we found that a community compensatory trend existed for trees. Therefore, although negative density dependence was not as pervasive as in other forest communities, it is an important mechanism for the maintenance of community diversity in this temperate forest. We conclude that both negative density dependence and habitat heterogeneity drive seedling survival, but their relative importance varies with seedling age classes and species traits.

Communicated by Walt Carson.