Current regeneration patterns at the tree line in the Pyrenees indicate similar recruitment processes irrespective of the past disturbance regime

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Abstract:

Abstract Aim 

Impacts of global change, such as land-use and climate changes, could produce significant alterations in the elevational patterns of alpine tree line ecotones and their adjacent vegetation zones. Because the responses of the tree line to environmental variations are directly related to successful tree regeneration, understanding recruitment dynamics is an indispensable step in tree line research. We aimed to compare potential ecological limitations on recent tree line regeneration in undisturbed and disturbed sites by analysing the demographic structure and spatiotemporal patterns of recruits and large trees. Location 

Alpine tree line ecotones comprising Pinus uncinata in the Catalan Pyrenees (north-east Spain) and Andorra. Methods 

We assessed the demographic structure and spatial pattern of recent recruitment using techniques of point-pattern and autocorrelation analyses. A total of 3639 P. uncinata individuals were mapped, measured and aged at 12 sites. To evaluate the effects of past disturbances on recent tree line response we compared tree lines that had either been recently affected by human-induced disturbances or had remained undisturbed for many years. Results 

The age structure of the tree lines, together with the lack of an age gap between seedlings and saplings, did not indicate recent episodes of high seedling mortality and suggest that recruitment has been frequent under current climate conditions. Seedlings appeared highly aggregated at short distances (up to 3 m), irrespective of disturbance history, and were spatially segregated with respect to large trees. However, we found no evidence of patches of even-aged seedlings, and our results suggest that dispersal events at intermediate distances (10–17 m) may be frequent. Autocorrelation analyses revealed different patterns of density and age of recruits between disturbed and undisturbed tree lines, but the strength and small-scale clustering of seedlings and saplings were very similar between sites. Main conclusions 

We found no recruitment limitation on recent tree line dynamics in the Pyrenees. Furthermore, processes affecting tree recruitment seem to be similar among populations regardless of their past disturbance regime. Our results suggest that constraints on tree line dynamics causing differential responses between sites may operate on older life stages and not upon recruits, and that such constraints may be more contingent on local site conditions than on disturbance history.

Keywords: Alpine tree line; Moran correlogram; Pinus uncinata; Pyrenees; disturbance; global change; pair-correlation function; recruitment

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2699.2010.02348.x

Affiliations: 1: ARAID, Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, CSIC, Avda. Montañana, 1005, 50080 Zaragoza, Spain 2: Departament d’Ecologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Avinguda Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain

Publication date: October 1, 2010

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