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Oecologia. 2010 Dec;164(4):1095-106. doi: 10.1007/s00442-010-1769-z. Epub 2010 Sep 22.

Northward migrating trees establish in treefall gaps at the northern limit of the temperate-boreal ecotone, Ontario, Canada.

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Global Ecological Change (GEC) Laboratory, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada.


Climate change is expected to promote migration of species. In ecotones, areas of ecological tension, disturbances may provide opportunities for some migrating species to establish in otherwise competitive environments. The size of and time since disturbance may determine the establishment ability of these species. We investigated gap dynamics of an old-growth red pine (Pinus resinosa Sol. ex Aiton) forest in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest in northern Ontario, Canada, a transition zone between temperate and boreal forest. We investigated the effects of gaps of different sizes and ages on tree species abundance and basal area. Our results show that tree species from the temperate forest further south, such as red maple (Acer rubrum L.), red oak (Quercus rubra L.), and white pine (Pinus strobus L.), establish more often in large, old gaps; however, tree species that have more northern distributions, such as black spruce (Picea mariana Mill.), paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.), and red pine show no difference in establishment ability with gap size or age. These differences in composition could not be attributed to autogenic succession. We conclude that treefall gaps in this forest facilitate the establishment of northward migrating species, potentially providing a pathway for future forest migration in response to recent changes in climate.

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