Below-Ground Resources Limit Seedling Growth In Forest Understories But Do Not Alter Biomass Distribution

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Annals Of Forest Science


We examined the long-term growth, morphology, biomass distribution, and survival response of seedlings of five conifer species varying widely in shade tolerance to an increase in soil resources in shaded forest understories in northern Wisconsin, USA. In a 4-year experiment, trenching treatment was used to increase soil resource supply to 1-year old seedlings planted across a range of low light microenvironments. Specifically we asked: (1) does an increase in soil resources alter whole-plant growth, biomass distribution patterns, and survival in lowlight, and (2) do species differ in their responses to increasing soil resources? Increased soil resource availability increased height (+11% on average) and dry mass (+23% on average) of all species regardless of light availability. However, there was no evidence that trenching affected biomass distribution for any species, as has been previously reported. Survivorship after four years was positively related to the species' reported shade tolerance ranking and was unaltered by trenching. We concluded that soil resource availability (supply-demand) can limit tree seedling growth in deeply shaded forest understories, but that increased resource availability of the magnitude caused by trenching does not favor tolerant rather than intolerant species, or vice-versa.