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Seed size underlies the uncoupling in species composition between canopy and recruitment layers in European forests

Bastias, Cristina C., Morán-López, Teresa, Valladares, Fernando, Benavides, Raquel
Forest ecology and management 2019 v.449 pp. 117471
boreal forests, canopy, filters, forest types, latitude, natural regeneration, plant communities, seed size, species richness, trees
Increasing evidence supports that canopy richness favors multifunctionality in European forests. Given that recruitment represents one of the main demographic bottlenecks in plant communities, the provision of similar levels of forest functioning in the future will depend on successful natural regeneration in the present. Here, we evaluated whether canopy diversity enhances recruitment (abundance and richness) by providing a more diverse seed supply and a more heterogeneous environmental context; or, alternatively, if post-dispersal environmental filters outweigh these expected positive effects. For this purpose, we used a large-scale European platform comprising 173 forest plots that follow a canopy species richness gradient (from monoculture to mixed plots up to 5 tree species) in five forest types from Mediterranean to boreal forests. Despite that canopy diversity promoted a more diverse seed supply and a more heterogeneous light environment, this did not translate into a richer or more abundant community of recruits. In fact, we found an important uncoupling in species composition between recruitment and canopy layers. Our results suggest that strong post-dispersal filters, mediated by an interaction between seed size and latitude, drive this mismatch. Large-seeded species were over-represented in the recruitment at both extremes of the European gradient (Mediterranean and boreal forests), while the opposite trend occurred at intermediate latitudes. Altogether, our work shows that preserving a more diverse canopy may not ensure successful recruitment, and advocates future studies analyzing the role of post-dispersal filters on the assembly of European forests.