, Volume 168, Issue 4, pp 1069–1077 | Cite as

Drivers of secondary succession rates across temperate latitudes of the Eastern USA: climate, soils, and species pools

  • Jason D. FridleyEmail author
  • Justin P. Wright
Community ecology


Climate change is widely expected to induce large shifts in the geographic distribution of plant communities, but early successional ecosystems may be less sensitive to broad-scale climatic trends because they are driven by interactions between species that are only indirectly related to temperature and rainfall. Building on a biogeographic analysis of secondary succession rates across the Eastern Deciduous Forest (EDF) of North America, we describe an experimental study designed to quantify the relative extent to which climate, soil properties, and geographic species pools drive variation in woody colonization rates of old fields across the EDF. Using a network of five sites of varying soil fertility spanning a latitudinal gradient from central New York to northern Florida, we added seeds of nine woody pioneer species to recently tilled old fields and monitored first-year growth and survivorship. Results suggest seedlings of southern woody pioneer species are better able to quickly establish in fields after abandonment, regardless of climate regime. Sites of lower soil fertility also exhibited faster rates of seedling growth, likely due to the slower development of the successional herbaceous community. We suggest that climate plays a relatively minor role in community dynamics at the onset of secondary succession, and that site edaphic conditions are a stronger determinant of the rate at which ecosystems develop to a woody-dominated state. More experimental research is necessary to determine the nature of the herbaceous–woody competitive interface and its sensitivity to environmental conditions.


Climate change Old field succession Tree–herb competition Biogeography Species pool 



We are grateful to Alaä Craddock, Bonnie McGill, Sarah Diel, and Eric Fridley for field and laboratory assistance, Paul Heine for help with soil analysis, and the logistical support provided by the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies (in particular Ray Winchcombe and Charles Canham), Peter Morin and Julie Lockwood at Rutgers University, Judd Edeburn at Duke Forest, and Ron Masters at Tall Timbers Research Station. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable manuscript comments. This study was supported by NSF grant DEB-0742861 to J.P.W. and J.D.F. The authors confirm that experiments comply with current laws of the USA.

Supplementary material

442_2011_2152_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 27 kb)


  1. Abel GW (1941) Factors influencing the natural establishment of forest trees on abandoned land. Cornell University, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  2. Bard GE (1952) Secondary succession on the Piedmont of New Jersey. Ecol Monogr 22:195–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baskin CC, Baskin JM (2000) Seeds: ecology, biogeography, and evolution of dormancy and germination. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Bates D, Maechler M (2009) lme4: linear mixed-effects models using S4 classes. R package version 0.999375-32. Accessed 17 Mar 2011
  5. Bazzaz FA (1968) Succession on abandoned fields in the Shawnee Hills, southern Illinois. Ecology 49:924–936CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Breshears DD (2006) The grassland-forest continuum: trends in ecosystem properties for woody plant mosaics? Front Ecol Env 4:96–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown DG, Johnson KM, Loveland TR, Theobald DM (2005) Rural land-use trends in the conterminous United States, 1950–2000. Ecol Appl 15:1851–1863CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Clements FE (1916) Plant succession: an analysis of the development of vegetation. Carnegie Institute, Washington, DCCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Development Core Team R (2010) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  11. Galang JS, Zipper CE, Prisley SP, Galbraith JM, Donovan PF (2007) Evaluating terrestrial carbon sequestration options for Virginia. Env Mngmnt 39:139–150Google Scholar
  12. Graves JH, Peet RK, White PS (2006) The influence of carbon-nutrient balance on herb and woody plant abundance in temperate forest understories. J Veg Sci 17:217–226Google Scholar
  13. Grime JP (2001) Plant strategies, vegetation processes, and ecosystem properties. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Haddad NM, Tilman D, Haarstad J, Ritchie M, Knops JMH (2001) Contrasting effects of plant richness and composition on insect communities: a field experiment. Am Nat 158:17–35PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Inouye RS, Huntly NJ, Tilman D, Terster JR, Stilwell M, Zinnel K (1987) Old-field succession on a Minnesota sand plain. Ecology 68:12–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Keever C (1950) Causes of succession on old fields of the Piedmont, North Carolina. Ecol Monogr 20:231–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Larcher W (2001) Physiological plant ecology: ecophysiology and stress physiology of functional groups. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Loehle C (1998) Height-growth rate tradeoffs determine northern and southern range limits for trees. J Biogeogr 25:735–742CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Meiners SJ, Pickett STA, Cadenasso ML (2002) Exotic plant invasions over 40 years of old field successions: community patterns and associations. Ecography 25:215–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mellinger MV, McNaughton SJ (1975) Structure and function of successional vascular plant communities in central New York. Ecol Monogr 45:161–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Norby RJ, Hartz-Rubin JS, Verbrugge MJ (2003) Phenological responses in maple to experimental atmospheric warming and CO2 enrichment. Glob Change Biol 9:1792–1801CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Oosting HJ (1942) An ecological analysis of the plant communities of Piedmont, North Carolina. Am Mid Nat 28:1–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Radford AE, Ahles HE, Bell CR (1964) Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. University of Chapel Hill Press, Chapel HillGoogle Scholar
  24. Sterner RW, Elser JJ (2002) Ecological stoichiometry: the biology of elements from molecules to the biosphere. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  25. Von Englen OD (1914) Effects of continental glaciation on agriculture. Part I. Bull Am Geogr Soc 46:241–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wright JP, Fridley JD (2010) Biogeographic synthesis of secondary succession rates in Eastern North America. J Biogeogr 37:1584–1596Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologySyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations