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Oaks enhance early life stage longleaf pine growth and density in a subtropical xeric savanna

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Abstract

The interplay of positive and negative species interactions controls species assembly in communities. Dryland plant communities, such as savannas, are important to global biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Sandhill oaks in xeric savannas of the southeastern United States can facilitate longleaf pine by enhancing seedling survival, but the effects of oaks on recruitment and growth of longleaf pine have not been examined. We censused, mapped, and monitored nine contiguous hectares of longleaf pine in a xeric savanna to quantify oak-pine facilitation, and to examine other factors impacting recruitment, such as vegetation cover and longleaf pine tree density. We found that newly recruited seedlings and grass stage longleaf pines were more abundant in oak-dominated areas where densities were 230% (newly recruited seedlings) and 360% (grass stage) greater from lowest to highest oak neighborhood densities. Longleaf pine also grew faster under higher oak density. Longleaf pine recruitment was lowest under longleaf pine canopies. Mortality of grass stage and bolt stage longleaf pine was low (~1.0% yr−1) in the census interval without fire. Overall, our findings highlight the complex interactions between pines and oaks—two economically and ecologically important genera globally. Xeric oaks should be incorporated as a management option for conservation and restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems.

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Data availability

Forest plot data are freely available online through the ForestGEO data portal (http://ctfs.si.edu/datarequest/). Code and seedling data are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Acknowledgements

The establishment of the OSFDP was made possible by an Ordway Swisher Biological Station Jumpstart grant from UF Institute for Food and Agricultural to S.B., D.J.J. and B.W. This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, McIntire Stennis projects 1007080, 1018790, and 1011658. RVL was supported by an appointment to the NASA Postdoctoral Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center, administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities under contract with NASA.

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This study was conceived by DJJ and LM. Data were collected by LM, DJJ, SL, DTC, SM, DW, BT, KP, NM, RB, and CC. Analysis were conducted by LM, DJJ, JM, DTC, and DNC. RL assisted with data processing. LM wrote the original draft with feedback from DJJ, JL, RMC, SB, DTC, and DV. All authors provided feedback and approval of the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lukas Magee.

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Communicated by Melinda D. Smith.

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Magee, L., Lapalikar, S., Cayetano, D.T. et al. Oaks enhance early life stage longleaf pine growth and density in a subtropical xeric savanna. Oecologia (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-024-05579-y

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