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Plant community and climate differ between former islands and submerged hills by proglacial lake Ojibway in eastern boreal Canada

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Abstract

Rare habitats result from the geochemistry, history, or topography of the environment. They shelter regionally rare species (i.e., those with only a few mentions) and are threatened by global changes and human activities. On the clay plains of western Québec, the scattered highest hills emerged from the proglacial lake Ojibway (10,200–8200 BP) as islands and were potentially colonised 2000 years before their present surroundings. This study aims to determine if the effect of this earlier colonisation is still visible today in comparison with nearby formerly submerged hills. To do so, vascular plants and bryophytes were sampled for all habitats (i.e., old-growth forest, wet rock, and dry rock) at matched pairs of formerly emerged and submerged hills with known disturbance histories. Hourly temperature and relative humidity were recorded the top and bottom of each hill for one year. We found that former islands housed richer bryophyte communities than formerly submerged hills while the opposite was true for vascular plants. Old-growth forest was the richest habitat. Although hilltop temperatures are higher than those of the plains, the former islands that made up the higher hills were colder and wetter than the smaller, formerly submerged hills. This did not affect the diversity of bryophytes, but it did have an impact on the diversity of most vascular plant life forms. We believe that the rugged higher hills create more microclimatic heterogeneity and are fire and climate refugia. Disturbances explains a higher vascular plant diversity on lower hills. We conclude that no former island effect exists as such, but rather a complex climate and fire refugia resulting of a more rugged topography in former islands that allowed old-growth dependent species to accumulate through millennia in the right habitat structure. These results give new perspectives to discriminate apparently common habitats.

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Acknowledgements

We want to thank funders of the National Science and Engineering Research Council and UQAT Industrial Chair in northern biodiversity in a mining context. We want to thank Steve Cumming for his work as a reviewer, which greatly improved the manuscript, “Corrige moi” for students’ reviews, Megan Wong as our field assistant, Catherine Boudreault for her advice on early versions of the manuscript, Julie Arsenault for her help in field work organisation and herbarium management and the Société Québécoise de Bryologie for rare bryophytes species verification.

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National Science and Engineering Research Council and UQAT Industrial Chair in northern biodiversity in a mining context.

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NA, NF and YB conceived and designed the experiments. NA performed the experiments and produced the data. NA analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. NF and YB edited and commented the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nils Ambec.

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Communicated by Antony Brown.

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Ambec, N., Bergeron, Y. & Fenton, N.J. Plant community and climate differ between former islands and submerged hills by proglacial lake Ojibway in eastern boreal Canada. Biodivers Conserv 32, 1709–1732 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-023-02572-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-023-02572-4

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