, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 153–161 | Cite as

Large-scale synchrony of gap dynamics and the distribution of understory tree species in maple–beech forests

  • Dominique Gravel
  • Marilou Beaudet
  • Christian Messier
Community Ecology - Original Paper


Large-scale synchronous variations in community dynamics are well documented for a vast array of organisms, but are considerably less understood for forest trees. Because of temporal variations in canopy gap dynamics, forest communities—even old-growth ones—are never at equilibrium at the stand scale. This paucity of equilibrium may also be true at the regional scale. Our objectives were to determine (1) if nonequilibrium dynamics caused by temporal variations in the formation of canopy gaps are regionally synchronized, and (2) if spatiotemporal variations in canopy gap formation affect the relative abundance of tree species in the understory. We examined these questions by analyzing variations in the suppression and release history of Acer saccharum Marsh. and Fagus grandifolia Ehrh. from 481 growth series of understory saplings taken from 34 mature stands. We observed that (1) the proportion of stems in release as a function of time exhibited a U-shaped pattern over the last 35 years, with the lowest levels occurring during 1975–1985, and that (2) the response to this in terms of species composition was that A. saccharum became more abundant at sites that had the highest proportion of stems in release during 1975–1985. We concluded that the understory dynamics, typically thought of as a stand-scale process, may be regionally synchronized.


Canopy gaps Synchrony Northern hardwoods Sapling dynamics Growth release 



We thank D. Fréchette and D. Sénécal for assistance in the field and laboratory. Access to study sites was made possible by Domtar and the Unité de Gestion de Portneuf. Thanks to C. Drever, Miguel Franco and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. Financial support was provided by Fonds d’Action Québécois sur le Développement Durable, Fonds Québecois de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies (FQRNT, Programme des Actions Concertées), and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). This work was conducted in compliance with the laws of Canada.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dominique Gravel
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marilou Beaudet
    • 1
  • Christian Messier
    • 1
  1. 1.Département des Sciences Biologiques, Centre d’Étude de la Forêt (CEF)Université du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Département de Biologie, Chimie et GéographieUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada

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