Plant Ecology

, Volume 212, Issue 2, pp 219–228

Linking carbon balance to establishment patterns: comparison of whitebark pine and Engelmann spruce seedlings along an herb cover exposure gradient at treeline

  • Sheel Bansal
  • Keith Reinhardt
  • Matthew J. Germino
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11258-010-9816-8

Cite this article as:
Bansal, S., Reinhardt, K. & Germino, M.J. Plant Ecol (2011) 212: 219. doi:10.1007/s11258-010-9816-8

Abstract

There is increasing evidence that landscape vegetation patterns near species’ range limits are associated with positive biotic interactions, such as in the alpine-treeline ecotone. In the northern Rocky Mountains, whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is considered an early-successional species, able to establish in exposed microsites, while late-successional species such as Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) are more dependent on neighboring vegetation to facilitate establishment. We compared ecophysiological traits associated with carbon balance of newly germinated seedlings of whitebark pine and Engelmann spruce along an herb cover gradient to (1) infer which ecophysiological properties explain the establishment success of seedlings, and (2) to assess differences in establishment patterns with respect to distance from neighboring vegetation. We measured survival over 2 years, and concurrently measured gas exchange and water relations (photosynthesis, respiration, and transpiration), morphology [specific leaf area (SLA)], and biochemistry [chlorophyll fluorescence (Fv/Fm) and nonstructural carbohydrates]. Both species initially established in the most exposed microsites away from vegetation during their first growing season, but only pine persisted in exposed microsites to the end of the second growing season. Pine exhibited phenotypic traits to increase stress tolerance (e.g., higher soluble sugar concentrations, lower SLA) and improve carbon balance (e.g., greater water use efficiency, lower respiration, higher Fv/Fm) compared to spruce in exposed sites, but had lower carbon balance under herb cover. Superior establishment success of pine in exposed microsites at treeline could thus be attributed to a suite of intrinsic physiological advantages that are apparent at the earliest stage of development.

Keywords

Chlorophyll fluorescence Nonstructural carbohydrates Photosynthesis Picea engelmannii Pinus albicaulis Respiration Specific leaf area Transpiration 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sheel Bansal
    • 1
    • 3
  • Keith Reinhardt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matthew J. Germino
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyWake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemUSA
  3. 3.Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural ScienceUmeåSweden