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Oecologia. 2004 Aug;140(4):650-3. Epub 2004 Jul 9.

Evidence that fungal pathogens inhibit recruitment of a shade-intolerant tree, white birch ( Betula papyrifera), in understory habitats.

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  • 1Department of Botany, University of Toronto at Mississauga, 3359, Mississauga Road North, Mississauga, ON, Canada, L5L 1C6.


Evidence from tropical forests suggests understory habitats are associated with a high risk of disease, which may prevent the establishment of vulnerable tree species; in contrast, canopy gaps can act as refuges from these pathogens. However, few studies have investigated the impacts of pathogens on regeneration in temperate forests. To determine whether losses to fungi of seeds of Betula papyrifera, a light-loving species, varied between habitats that differed in their degree of openness, we applied fungicide to seeds buried in old fields, treefall gaps, and forest understory sites. We found that the application of fungicide significantly reduced losses in all habitats, relative to control values. This effect was habitat-dependent: the benefit of fungicide was greater in forest understory than in openings. This suggests that B. papyrifera is prevented from establishing in understory environments in part by its susceptibility to pathogen attack, and not solely because of a high light requirement.

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