Belowground Competition Directs Spatial Patterns of Seedling Growth in Boreal Pine Forests in Fennoscandia
FORESTS 2014, 5(9):2106-2121
Axelsson EP, Lundmark T, Hogberg P, Nordin A

Abstract
Aboveground competition is often argued to be the main process determining patterns of natural forest regeneration. However, the theory of multiple resource limitation suggests that seedling performance also depends on belowground competition and, thus, that their relative influence is of fundamental importance. Two approaches were used to address the relative importance of above- and below-ground competition on regeneration in a nutrient-poor pine (Pinus sylvestris) boreal forest. Firstly, seedling establishment beneath trees stem-girdled 12 years ago show that a substantial proportion of the seedlings were established within two years after girdling, which corresponds to a time when nutrient uptake by tree roots was severely reduced without disrupting water transport to the tree canopy, which consequently was maintained. The establishment during these two years also corresponds to abundances high enough for normal stand replacement. Secondly, surveys of regeneration within forest gaps showed that surrounding forests depressed seedlings, so that satisfactory growth occurred only more than 5 m from forest edges and that higher solar radiation in south facing edges was not enough to mediate these effects. We conclude that disruption of belowground competitive interactions mediates regeneration and, thus, that belowground competition has a strong limiting influence on seedling establishment in these forests.

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