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The contribution of understory light availability and biotic neighborhood to seedling survival in secondary versus old-growth temperate forest


Seedling survival plays an important role in the maintenance of species diversity and forest dynamics. Although substantial gains have been made in understanding the factors driving patterns of seedling survival in forests, few studies have considered the simultaneous contribution of understory light availability and the local biotic neighborhood to seedling survival in temperate forests at different successional stages. Here, we used generalized linear mixed models to assess the relative importance of understory light availability and biotic neighborhood variables on seedling survival in secondary and old-growth temperate forest in north eastern China at two levels (community and guild). At the community level, biotic neighborhood effects on seedling survival were more important than understory light availability in both forests. In both the old-growth and secondary forests, conspecific basal area had a negative effect on seedling survival, consistent with negative conspecific density dependence. At guild levels, the relative importance of light and biotic neighborhood on seedling survival showed considerable variation among guilds in both forests. Available understory light tended to have positive effects on seedling survival for shrub and light-demanding species in the old-growth forest, but negative effects on survival of shade-tolerant seedlings in the secondary forest. For tree species and shade-tolerant species, the best fit models included neighborhood variables, but that was not the case for shrubs, light-demanding, or mid shade-tolerant species. Overall, our results demonstrate that the relative importance of understory light availability and biotic factors on seedling survival vary with species life-history strategy and forest successional stage.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science and Foundation of China (41101188, 31370444, and 41301057) and State Key Laboratory of Forest and Soil Ecology (LFSE2013-11). We thank Dr. Jiaojun Zhu for his valuable suggestions for methods. We thank Dr. Simon Queenborough for assistance with the figures. We also thank Liwei Wang, Ji Ye, Buhang Li, Zhaochen Zhang, Xu Kuang, Houjuan Song, Guodong Liu, Baizhang Song and Zhenshan Li for their assistance with the data collection.

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Correspondence to Zhanqing Hao.

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Communicated by Chris Lusk.

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Lin, F., Comita, L.S., Wang, X. et al. The contribution of understory light availability and biotic neighborhood to seedling survival in secondary versus old-growth temperate forest. Plant Ecol 215, 795–807 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-014-0332-0

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  • Canopy openness
  • Density dependence
  • Shade tolerance
  • Species coexistence
  • Temperate forests