Understanding coexistence of highly shade-tolerant tree species is a longstanding challenge for forest ecologists. A conceptual model for the coexistence of sugar maple ( Acer saccharum ) and American beech ( Fagus grandifolia ) has been proposed, based on a low-light survival/high-light growth trade-off, which interacts with soil fertility and small-scale spatiotemporal variation in the environment. In this study, we first tested whether the spatial distribution of seedlings and saplings can be predicted by the spatiotemporal variability of light availability and soil fertility, and second, the manner in which the process of environmental filtering changes with regeneration size. We evaluate the support for this hypothesis relative to the one for a neutral model, i.e., for seed rain density predicted from the distribution of adult trees. To do so, we performed intensive sampling over 86 quadrats (5 ×× 5 m) in a 0.24-ha plot in a mature maple––beech community in Quebec, Canada. Maple and beech abundance, soil characteristics, light availability, and growth history (used as a proxy for spatiotemporal variation in light availability) were finely measured to model variation in sapling composition across different size classes. Results indicate that the variables selected to model species distribution do effectively change with size, but not as predicted by the conceptual model. Our results show that variability in the environment is not sufficient to differentiate these species' distributions in space. Although species differ in their spatial distribution in the small size classes, they tend to correlate at the larger size class in which recruitment occurs. Overall, the results are not supportive of a model of coexistence based on small-scale variations in the environment. We propose that, at the scale of a local stand, the lack of fit of the model could result from the high similarity of species in the range of environmental conditions encountered, and we suggest that coexistence would be stable only at larger spatial scales at which variability in the environment is greater.
Ecology – Ecological Society of America
Published: Oct 1, 2008
Keywords: Acer saccharum ; American beech ; coexistence ; environmental heterogeneity ; Fagus grandifolia ; Quebec ; Canada ; sapling dynamics ; spatial structure ; sugar maple
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