Two concomitant phenomena currently affect the dynamics of sugar maple-American beech (AB) stands in northeastern North America: beech bark disease (BBD), and increased AB understory density. Many studies suggest a causal link between the two phenomena, i.e., BBD favouring beech regeneration. But this link has yet to be experimentally demonstrated. To address the question, we compared regeneration composition between recently BBD-affected and -unaffected stands. A total of 109 stands were sampled; half were affected by BBD. Seedling and sapling density were assessed, together with the origin (seedling or sprout). While BBD affects stands in the eastern part of the study region, AB was observed in the understory across the entire region. No clear difference in AB sprout density between BBD-affected and -unaffected stands was observed while AB seedling density—as well as pooled AB seedling and sprout density were higher in unaffected stands. Findings suggests that BBD, in its early stage, is not a necessary trigger of AB understory establishment. Yet, AB sapling basal area generally was higher in stands affected by BBD, likely indicating a greater rate of AB understory development due to increased light availability beneath a more open crown canopy. That development can lead to AB understory dominance. This distinction—BBD not necessarily triggering AB root sucker establishment but favoring AB advance regeneration development—also questions the generalized perception that dense AB thickets necessarily originate from root suckers.
Biological Invasions – Springer Journals
Published: May 31, 2018
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