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Effects of overstorey canopy, plant–plant interactions and soil properties on Mediterranean maritime pine seedling dynamics

Rodríguez-García, Encarna, Bravo, Felipe, Spies, Thomas A.
Forest ecology and management 2011 v.262 no.2 pp. 244-251
shrubs, seedlings, soil properties, spring, water stress, canopy gaps, seedling emergence, forest communities, summer, conifers, overstory, Pinus pinaster, mortality, forests
Seedling emergence, survival and early growth of the Mediterranean conifer P. pinaster were studied under closed canopy and open canopy (gaps) cover conditions in a Mediterranean forest of central Spain during two consecutive years (March 2008 to January 2010). Our main objective was to understand how overstorey structure, shrubs and soil properties influence recruitment in this species. Natural emergence and seedling survival were significantly better under closed canopy cover than under open canopy during the two consecutive years of the study; survival increased as radiation decreased. Proximity to shrubs under closed canopy cover was associated with lower mortality rates as well as a positive and apparently transitive effect on early growth. Amelioration of microclimatic conditions is hypothesized as the primary facilitation agent of those observed. Younger seedlings established during the spring of 2008 experienced higher mortality rates than older seedlings established before 2008, and soil properties affected seedling survival significantly. Water stress during summer appeared to be the main cause of seedling mortality in both years. Our study suggests that seedlings of shade-intolerant species may require overstorey cover to establish successfully, and that positive plant–plant interactions in forest communities may be more important than expected in the milder conditions provided by overstorey canopy cover.