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Conifer Presence May Negatively Affect Sugar Maple%u2019s Ability to Migrate into the Boreal Forest Through Reduced Foliar Nutritional Status

Collin, A., C. Messier and N. Bélanger. 2016.

Abstract

The discipline of ecology suffers from a lack of knowledge of non-climatic factors (for example, plant- soil, plant- plant and plant- insect interactions) to predict tree species range shifts under climate change. The next generation of simulation models of forest response to climate change must build upon local observations of species interactions and growth along climatic gradients. We examined whether sugar maple (Acer saccharum) seedlings were disadvantaged with respect to soil nutrient uptake under coniferous canopies, as this species would need to migrate northward into conifer-dominated forests in response to climate change. An experimental design was applied to 3 sites, forming the largest possible latitudinal/climatic gradient for sugar maple in Quebec (Canada) and isolating the effect of conifer presence on its seedling's nutritional status. We tested whether: (1) both soil and climate and (2) presence of conifers affected foliar nutrient levels of sugar maple seedlings. Climate and soil (through pH) strongly affected nutrient availability for sugar maple seedlings and predicted 63.7% of their foliar nutrient variability. When controlling for site effects, we found a significant negative effect of conifers on foliar Ca and Mg levels of maple seedlings, which can adversely affect their overall health and vigour. When considering projected modifications of the forest environment due to climate change, we suggest that northward migration of sugar maple will be negatively affected by the presence of conifers through reduced foliar nutrition.

Key Words

Acer saccharum seedlings foliar nutrition ecological gradient calcium magnesium species interactions