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Oecologia

, 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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

Notes

Acknowledgments

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)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

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

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