Publication details

Forest floor alteration by canopy trees and soil wetness drive regeneration of a spruce-beech forest



Year of publication 2022
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Forest Ecology and Management
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords Fagus sylvatica; Picea abies; Tree seedling; Uprooting; Deadwood; Mosses; Litter; Disturbance regime; Tree-soil interactions; Ecosystem engineering
Description Natural regeneration of European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Norway spruce (Picea abies) plays a crucial role in the future of many European mountain forests. It is affected by various soil and stand-related factors whose relative importance, especially in mixed stands, is still not known. In this study, we assessed the importance of stand composition, soil wetness, disturbances and different microsites and seedbeds for regeneration of beech and spruce in a mixed old-growth mountain forest. We also focused on how the effects of these factors change as regeneration gets older. We sampled all regeneration in 563 plots from different microsite types (deadwood, intact soil, treethrow pits and mounds), distinguishing three seedbeds (mosses, beech litter, bare substrate) for seedlings. We used soil survey and tree census data with generalized linear mixed models and variance partitioning to identify the main factors driving tree regeneration and their relative importance. Although beech was slightly less abundant in the canopy than spruce, it strongly outnumbered spruce in regeneration. Beech regeneration showed an affinity for beech litter-rich microsites and drier soils, while spruce was more common on deadwood and moister soils and its response to the seedbed was microsite-specific. The regeneration of both species was positively related to the proportion of their own species in the canopy, but more so in seedlings than in older regeneration cohorts, where soil wetness was more important. The overall pattern of tree regeneration thus resulted from a complex interplay between site conditions and their alterations by current and former generations of canopy trees through the creation of new microsites (deadwood, uprooting mounds) or litter production. Where beech regeneration is not suppressed by excess soil wetness, it is much more successful than spruce due to its shade tolerance and ability to be established in the beech litter that dominates the forest floor. On the other hand, spruce regeneration is mostly restricted to elevated microsites with lower litter accumulation, such as deadwood and treethrow mounds. Our results indicate that both species exhibit an ability to modify their environment in favor of their own regeneration, but under current conditions, beech is more successful than spruce and can be expected to increase its dominance in the future.

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