Evaluating the ecological niche of American chestnut for optimal hybrid seedling reintroduction sites in the Appalachian ridge and valley province
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This study examines the ecological niche of American chestnut (Castanea dentata (Marsh.) Borkh) and the latest blight resistant American chestnut × Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima Blume) hybrids. Planted seedlings of chestnut, tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) and chestnut oak (Quercus prinus L.) were subjected to two levels of light and two soil types in parallel field and greenhouse studies. The field study took place in the Appalachian ridge and valley province of Virginia. Growth and survival were quantified after three growing seasons. The interaction between light levels and topographic position (soil type) was significant for growth rates in the field and greenhouse. Species were significantly different from each other although hybrid varieties were not significantly different from each other or from pure American chestnut. Tulip poplar showed the greatest growth rates under all treatments in the field. Both tulip poplar and chestnut had the greatest growth rates in large gaps within mesic, mid and lower slope (MML) sites in the field. In contrast to growth, optimal conditions for survival differed among species. Tulip poplar had the greatest survival (71%) within large gaps in MML sites while chestnuts and oaks had the greatest overall survival (64%) in small gaps within xeric, upper slope and ridge (XUR) sites. In the greenhouse, tulip poplar did not outperform chestnut. Discrepancies in field and greenhouse studies were accounted for by uncontrolled factors, such as rodent predation. We conclude that optimal sites for planting American chestnut hybrids are in small gaps located within XUR sites.
KeywordsRestoration Seedling performance Experimental gaps Competition Greenhouse
Financial support was provided by a grant from the Jeffress Memorial Trust Foundation. Infrastructure support was provided by James Madison University. Many students assisted with planting and measuring seedlings. We would like to especially thank Mark Hudy for access to his land and infrastructure support. We would also like to thank Dr. Fred Hebard of the American Chestnut Foundation for providing the hybrid seeds. Special thanks to Mark Ashton for reviewing drafts of this paper.
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