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


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.

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We thank Drs. Liza S. Comita, Fangliang He, Xiangcheng Mi, Luxiang Lin, and Lei Chen, ChiaHao ChangYang for helpful suggestions on data analysis. We thank Drs. Walter P. Carson, Erin Kurten, C. E. Timothy Paine and an anonymous reviewer for critical comments for the manuscript. We also thank Liwei Wang for his field work and data collection. This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31061160188 and No. 31011120470), the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. KZCX2-EW-401 and No. KSCX2-EW-Z-5). The publication of this manuscript has been approved by all co-authors.

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Correspondence to Zhanqing Hao.

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Communicated by Walt Carson.

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Bai, X., Queenborough, S.A., Wang, X. et al. Effects of local biotic neighbors and habitat heterogeneity on tree and shrub seedling survival in an old-growth temperate forest. Oecologia 170, 755–765 (2012).

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  • Negative density dependence
  • Niche partitioning
  • Seedling dynamics
  • Community compensatory trend
  • Generalized linear mixed models