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Recruitment patterns and northward tree migration through gap dynamics in an old-growth white pine forest in northern Ontario

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Decreases in abundances and declines in growth of eastern white pine over the past century due mainly to human activities have resulted in few large intact old-growth white pine forests in Ontario. These stands may be vulnerable to replacement by deciduous species from temperate forests further south, where recruitment in canopy gap disturbances can greatly define the regeneration process. We investigated recruitment dynamics in canopy gaps of an old-growth white pine forest of Temagami, northern Ontario, Canada, the northern limit of the temperate–boreal ecotone. White pine, red pine, black spruce and eastern white cedar represented 85 % of the mature canopy abundance, where trees and saplings established equally in gaps and the closed canopy. Balsam fir and paper birch were more abundant in gaps, showing increases of abundance and basal area with increases in gap size representing canopy self-replacement (balsam fir) and autogenic succession (paper birch). Red maple, at its northernmost range limit, was the only species to show linear increases of abundance and basal area with increases in gap size and gap age. This result, along with adult red maples present in gaps but absent from the closed canopy, identifies the establishment of a northward migrating species in gaps as hypothesized for pine forests at the northern limit of this broad ecotone. We discuss how migration pressures, coupled with pine recruitment limitation through reduced fire frequency by regional fire suppression and predicted future increased warming of 2–4 °C over the next century, threatens replacement of old-growth white pine forests at this latitude with northward migrating tree species found further south.

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We thank Peter Quinby for aid with site maps and discussion on old-growth white pine forests of the Temagami region, Vero Chillo for aid with fieldwork and data collection, Richard Frank for aid with logistics and supplies and two anonymous reviewers for helpful commentary on threats of white pine forests in the Great Lakes region. We also thank the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs program for funding for M.A.

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Correspondence to Madhur Anand.

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Online Resource 1: Relationship between tree age and tree basal area for trees cored in canopy gaps (log-decay class 2 to 5). Figure presented to represent the variation in the relationship found for trees cored in gaps of this study. Despite this variation in tree age-basal area, the variation for tree age-gap age estimates from Fig. 1c is less than that observed here, and can provide a rough estimate for gap age based on log-decay classes used in this study. (TIFF 134 kb)

Online Resource 2: Tests of fit for non-linear functions of tree age and estimated age of gap (log decay class). Inconsistency in non-linear functions (i.e. similar r 2 for exponential and logarithmic functions, yet showing opposite patterns), and only a slight deviation from the linear pattern suggests the response of tree age and gap age estimates to be linear, supporting the use of linear models in this study. (TIFF 225 kb)

Online Resource 3: Log-transformed gap size and gap age with balsam fir, paper birch and red maple abundance and basal area in gaps (from Fig. 5). Relationships are maintained with those from Fig. 5 with exceptions of balsam fir and red maple basal areas now showing linear increases with log-gap size. (TIFF 238 kb)

Online Resource 4: Log-transformed balsam fir basal area, red maple abundance and red maple basal area from Fig. 4. The log-transformed data still yields a strong, significant correlation with gap age, showing that heteroscedasticity as found in Fig. 4 does not explain the positive trend observed. (TIFF 237 kb)

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Leithead, M., Silva, L.C.R. & Anand, M. Recruitment patterns and northward tree migration through gap dynamics in an old-growth white pine forest in northern Ontario. Plant Ecol 213, 1699–1714 (2012).

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  • Disturbance
  • Temperate–boreal ecotone
  • Temagami
  • Wakimika Triangle
  • Old-growth white pine