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More than just drought: complexity of recruitment patterns in Mediterranean forests

AuthorsGranda Fernández, Elena ; Escudero, Adrián; Valladares Ros, Fernando
KeywordsSeed fate
Summer drought
Spatial heterogeneity
Density dependence
Forest dynamics
Issue Date2014
CitationOecologia 176(4): 997-1007 (2014)
Abstract© 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Understanding community dynamics during early life stages of trees is critical for the prediction of future species composition. In Mediterranean forests drought is a major constraint for regeneration, but likely not the only factor determining the observed spatial patterns. We carried out a sowing experiment aimed at identifying main filters during seed-seedling transition. Specifically, we studied seed fate (predation, fungi infection, emergence) and subsequent seedling performance (mortality during the first summer and overall recruitment after 2 years) of four co-occurring Mediterranean tree species (Quercus ilex, Quercus faginea, Juniperus thurifera,Pinus nigra). We related these processes to the dominant species composition, microhabitat heterogeneity, herb cover and seed mass. The identity of the dominant species in the forest canopy was more important for recruitment than the forest canopy being dominated by conspecific vs. heterospecific species. The patterns we found suggest that biotic interactions such as facilitation (lower mortality under the canopies) and herb competition (during emergence of J. thurifera) are relevant during recruitment. Moreover, our results pointed to ontogenetic conflicts regarding the seed mass of Q. faginea and to density-dependent seed mortality for Q. ilex, rarely described in Mediterranean ecosystems. We propose that our study species experience population growth in forests dominated by heterospecifics where the recruitment success depends on habitat heterogeneity and on moderated biotic and abiotic stresses created by each species. Our results reveal patterns and mechanisms involved in recruitment constraints that add complexity to the well-known drought-related processes in Mediterranean ecosystems.
Identifiersdoi: 10.1007/s00442-014-3064-x
issn: 0029-8549
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