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Competitive responses of seedlings and understory plants in longleaf pine woodlands: separating canopy influences above and below ground

Pecot, S.D., Mitchell, R.J., Palik, B.J., Moser, E.B., Hiers, J.K.
Canadian journal of forest research = 2007 v.37 no.3 pp. 634
plant competition, woodlands, understory, hardwood, overstory, herbaceous plants, light intensity, light, seedlings, canopy gaps, Pinus palustris, tree mortality, seedling growth, shade tolerance, soil nutrients, nitrogen, roots, trenching, soil water
A trenching study was used to investigate above- and below-ground competition in a longleaf pine (Pinus palustris P. Mill.) woodland. Trenched and nontrenched plots were replicated in the woodland matrix, at gap edges, and in gap centers representing a range of overstory stocking. One-half of each plot received a herbicide treatment to remove the understory. We monitored pine survival and growth, understory productivity, light level (gap fraction), and soil resources. The overstory facilitated pine seedling survival. Pine seedling growth was reduced as overstory stocking increased. Reduced growth of seedlings was also observed in gaps when the understory was left intact. Understory plants competed with seedlings by filling the root gaps that developed as a result of overstory disturbance. Hardwood growth increased in gaps, owing to decreased belowground competition with adult pines, while growth of herbaceous plants and pine seedlings increased with light availability. Large overstory gaps are not required to initiate regeneration in longleaf pine woodlands. Retaining overstory dispersed throughout the stand but variable in density, through single-tree selection approaches, may be an alternative to gap-based approaches. This approach would allow for the fuel continuity needed to sustain the frequent fire required to maintain the diversity characteristic of this type of woodland.