Prolonged Absence of Disturbance Associated with Increased Environmental Stress May Lead to Reduced Seedbank Size in Picea mariana in Boreal Eastern North America

Abstract

Disturbance plays an important role in the distributional range of species by affecting their colonization potential and persistence. Short disturbance intervals have been linked to reduced seedbank sizes of some species, but the effects of long intervals are largely unknown. To explore the potential existence of seedbank sizes that may also be limited by long disturbance intervals, we studied an area in boreal eastern North America where time since fire (TSF) coincides with an increase in environmental stress (accumulating organic matter measured as depth of the soil organic layer (SOL)). Along a chronosequence dating back about 710 years, we counted the number of seeds cone−1 of black spruce (Picea mariana) and then estimated the number of seeds tree−1 and site−1 by upscaling. Younger sites [TSF 60–150 years] with mature first regeneration trees had average-sized seedbanks for black spruce [12.0–17.9 (105) seeds ha−1], whereas subsequent pulse trees that established in SOL depths greater than 35 cm showed highly reduced seed numbers. Sites with second- to fourth-regeneration pulse individuals [TSF c. 350–710 years] had exceptionally small seedbanks of 0.90 (105) and 0.46 (105) seeds ha−1, respectively. Radial tree growth rate showed a similarly negative response to SOL depth and could potentially be used as an indicator of seed output in plant species. Because the decline in seedbank size was possibly caused by more general environmental stress factors such as reduced nutrient availability, we suggest exploring whether other examples of ecosystems exist where long time since disturbance may lead to reduced seedbank sizes.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Dave Gervais and Geneviève Gélinas for data collection, Yassine Messaoud for seed extraction, Mélanie Desrochers for producing Figure 1, Danielle Charron for dendrochronological analysis, Adam Ali for updating the radiocarbon dates, Stéphane Daigle for statistical advice, Sophine Johnsson and Héloïse Le Goff for helpful comments and NSERC-UQAT-UQAM Industrial Chair in Sustainable Forest Management and Center for Forest Research (CFR) for their facilities. We also thank NSERC and RDC Grants to Y.B. for financial support. I.D. thanks the Nordic Council of Ministers (Grant No. 12262), and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education STINT (IB2013-5420) for their financial support.

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Correspondence to Rik Van Bogaert.

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SG, DFG, and YB developed the ideas for the paper, KJ started some initial analyses, whereas RVB did most of the analyses and wrote the paper with SG that was then edited by ID, DFG and YB.

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Van Bogaert, R., Gauthier, S., Drobyshev, I. et al. Prolonged Absence of Disturbance Associated with Increased Environmental Stress May Lead to Reduced Seedbank Size in Picea mariana in Boreal Eastern North America. Ecosystems 18, 1135–1150 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-015-9888-3

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Keywords

  • long disturbance intervals
  • seedbank size
  • fire cycle
  • tree growth rate
  • black spruce
  • life history of a species
  • environmental stress
  • paludification