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Sapling age structure and growth series reveal a shift in recruitment dynamics of sugar maple and American beech over the last 40 years

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Northern hardwoods have undergone a marked change in their dynamics, with American beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.) increasing in abundance relative to sugar maple ( Acer saccharum Marsh.). This study aims to better understand this sudden shift in recruitment dynamics. We performed an extensive analysis of the age structure, radial growth pattern, and release history on >700 saplings from 34 mature maple–beech stands of southern Quebec. We found (i) that the sapling age structures showed a progressive decrease in the establishment of maple relative to beech starting about 40 years ago, (ii) a change in the species growth hierarchy that started in the 1980s due to increasing radial growth of beech, (iii) that this growth trend is negligible for both maple and beech when we account for size and suppression status, and finally (iv) that the growth trend appears to be independent of present soil conditions. These results contrast with previous studies conducted at the adult stage that reported a growth decline for maple. We conclude that this change in recruitment dynamics is not related to growth, and consequently, further studies investigating this phenomenon should concentrate on establishment and survival.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Département de biologie, chimie et géographique, Université du Québec à Rimouski, 300 Allée des Ursulines, Rimouski, QC G5L 3A1, Canada. 2: Centre d’étude de la forêt (CEF), Département des sciences biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, QC H3C 3P8, Canada.

Publication date: 2011-04-08

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