Spatial pattern of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) and oak (Quercus pubescens Mill.) seedlings in natural pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) woodlands
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- Kunstler, G., Curt, T. & Lepart, J. Eur J Forest Res (2004) 123: 331. doi:10.1007/s10342-004-0048-0
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Spatial pattern of recruitment is an important factor influencing population dynamics of plant communities. The spatial pattern is determined by seed dispersal and by the spatial variability of germination and initial survival. In the process of forest expansion following farmland abandonment, mid- and late-successional species are often dispersed in pioneer forests by birds. This could result in an aggregated spatial pattern of seeds that could influence the dynamics of these species in mixed pioneer forests. In the sub-Mediterranean area, mid- and late-successional species such as Quercus pubescens (downy oak) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech) are expected to replace pioneer Pinus species. Using a point sampling method we demonstrated that beech and oak seedlings (height <2 m) have a clumped distribution in the understorey of pine. This could result from an aggregated dispersal by jays (dispersal effect) or from preferential recruitment in particular habitats (habitat effect). To test these hypotheses we proposed a statistical analysis of spatial patterns of regeneration of beech and oak. Ground cover variables (i.e. cover by rock outcrops, herbs, box shrubs, mosses or pine) did not differ significantly around seedlings as compared with random sample plots. Likewise, clumped seedlings had growth similar to isolated seedlings, thus refuting the hypothesis of preferential location in the most favourable microsites. Aggregated dispersal seems to be involved in the process of regeneration. Since beech and oak seedlings have contrasting ecological demands, we discuss the implication of this pattern for the replacement dynamics of pine by these species.