Abstract. Many theories of forest succession imply that terrestrial plant community composition within a region tends to converge toward a climax community. That is, given similar climatic and edaphic conditions, succession at different sites within an area will lead to comparable species compositions, a pattern referred to as successional convergence. In this study, we examine changes in plant composition within forest canopy gaps over a 17‐yr period to identify potential patterns of successional convergence and to ascertain the factors controlling the successional pathway. To do so, we: (1) sampled 36 forest canopy gaps in Hueston Woods Nature Preserve in 1977, 1981, 1985, 1989 and 1993, (2) evaluated changes in the similarity of gap composition over this period, and (3) examined gap composition in each year as a function of variables describing gap habitat, seed source proximity, and disturbance history. Results indicated an initial pattern of successional divergence, with gaps exhibiting increased dissimilarity over the first 10–12 years of succession. We attribute this initial period of divergence to the effects of differential seed inputs from edge individuals and heterogeneity of available light due to differences in gap size. Recent surveys, however, indicated that gap composition has become more similar as competition within gaps has become more intense. In these samples, gap composition is closely linked to site conditions, including slope, soil conditions, and site exposure. Finally, while these patterns may suggest equilibrium‐oriented dynamics, non‐equilibrium processes such as repeat disturbances are also evident at Hueston Woods and will likely play an important role in determining future successional pathways.
Journal of Vegetation Science – Wiley
Published: Apr 1, 1996
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