Tree Encroachment Varies by Plant Community in a Large Boreal Peatland Complex in the Boreal-Temperate Ecotone of Northeastern USA

Abstract

Large peatland complexes at the boreal-temperate ecotone are essential habitats for boreal species at their southern range limits where they are threatened by tree encroachment accelerated by climate change and nitrogen deposition. To inform vascular plant and biodiversity conservation, we studied tree encroachment patterns in a large (> 400 ha) boreal peatland complex in the northeastern United States across vegetation types and environmental gradients. We characterized vascular plant composition, environmental drivers and tree demography on 50 plots (each 25 m2). We used non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) to identify two main drivers of vascular plant composition in the herbaceous layer—pH and tree canopy openness—that described three broad plant community types (open bog, forested bog, and fen). Tree demography suggested that woody encroachment (i.e., tree seedling recruitment) varied across these community types; open bog was colonized by Picea mariana seedlings, while forested bog and fen (dominated by evergreen conifers, Picea mariana and Thuja occidentalis, respectively) were colonized by deciduous tree species (Acer rubrum and Betula alleghaniensis). Our findings provide early warning signs of vegetation change in boreal peatlands near their southern range limits caused by the encroachment of temperate tree species into forested peatlands and expanding tree cover in open bogs.

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Acknowledgements

Field work was funded by Shingle Shanty Preserve and Research Station (www.shingleshanty.org) and its supporters including a grant from the Northeast States Research Cooperative. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments and suggestions greatly improved this manuscript. We are indebted to Dr. Mark Lesser and Troy Tetreault at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science for conducting cross-dating analysis on tree core samples that refined our estimates of tree establishment. We would also like to thank R. Curran, B. Langdon, G. Langdon, S. Langdon, C. Pershyn, J. Post, S. Sears, and W. Wunderlich for their assistance in the field and data entry. Dr. Donald B. Potter (1924-2015) played an instrumental role in initiating research at Shingle Shanty and documenting site geology and cultural history; we are grateful for his work.

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Langdon, S.F., Dovciak, M. & Leopold, D.J. Tree Encroachment Varies by Plant Community in a Large Boreal Peatland Complex in the Boreal-Temperate Ecotone of Northeastern USA. Wetlands 40, 2499–2511 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-020-01319-z

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Keywords

  • Adirondacks
  • Boreal-temperate ecotone
  • Peatlands
  • Tree encroachment
  • Succession