Multi-scale Analysis of Environmental Conditions and Conifer Seedling Distribution Across the Treeline Ecotone of Northern Manitoba, Canada
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- Mamet, S.D. & Kershaw, G.P. Ecosystems (2013) 16: 295. doi:10.1007/s10021-012-9614-3
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Treeline represents not only an important physiognomic boundary but also an important transition between disjunct mesoclimates and environmental limitations on establishment of tree species. The circumboreal treeline is controlled by some still to be understood physiological mechanism dependent on air temperatures, though younger life stages are increasingly influenced by numerous other biotic and abiotic factors at finer spatial and temporal scales. The goal of this study was to evaluate environmental and reproductive characteristics across treeline around Churchill, Manitoba, and to determine which factors are most important for successful seedling establishment by tamarack, white spruce and black spruce. We examined mid-winter snowpack, soil characteristics, seed viability, seedling establishment, and dominant vegetation at sites within forest and at treeline. Growing season was longer at treeline due to less snow accumulation, though soil temperatures were more variable throughout the year when compared with forest. Conifer seed germination was greater than 88% for most of the region and total seedling density was relatively consistent between sites. Seedlings were negatively associated with other plants within the forest, but low stature vegetation seemed to facilitate establishment at treeline. The associations between seedling establishment and habitat availability observed at several sites suggest that treeline advance in the Churchill area could be contingent on the facilitative effects of plants at and beyond treeline. The results of this study support the premise that fine-scale biotic and abiotic patterns and processes such as snowpack and facilitation by neighboring vegetation certainly cannot be overlooked in analyses of patterns at treeline in a changing Subarctic.