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Environmental controls on ground cover species composition and productivity in a boreal black spruce forest

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Boreal black spruce forests typically have a dense ground cover of bryophytes. The two main bryophyte groups in boreal black spruce forests, feathermoss and Sphagnum, have ecophysiological characteristics that influence the biogeochemical cycles of black spruce forests differently. The objective of this study was to examine the environmental controls of ground cover composition and net primary production (NPP) of feathermoss and Sphagnum in a boreal black spruce forest in central Saskatchewan. The fraction of Sphagnum ground cover was positively correlated to canopy photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) transmittance (r 2=0.48, P=0.03), but the fraction of feathermoss ground cover was negatively correlated to canopy PAR transmittance in plots where Sphagnum was present (r 2=0.87, P<0.0001). Sphagnum presence was inversely correlated (P=0.0001) to water table index, defined as water table depth relative to the peat layer, while feathermoss occurred in a wider range of microenvironments. Average NPP for 1998 was more than three times greater for Sphagnum (77 g C m–2 year–1) than feathermoss (24 g C m–2 year–1), but the average bryophyte NPP for 1998 was 25 g C m–2 year–1 because feathermoss was the dominant ground cover. The large, but differing, peat carbon content of Sphagnum- versus feathermoss-dominated boreal forests and peatlands necessitates the need to accurately quantify fraction ground cover. Additional validation of the empirical models between environmental variables and fraction ground cover of bryophytes is necessary, but the reported relationships offer an approach to model carbon dynamics of bryophytes in boreal forests and peatlands.

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Bisbee, K.E., Gower, S.T., Norman, J.M. et al. Environmental controls on ground cover species composition and productivity in a boreal black spruce forest. Oecologia 129, 261–270 (2001).

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