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Oecologia. 2011 Jun;166(2):565-76. doi: 10.1007/s00442-010-1878-8. Epub 2010 Dec 19.

Strong microsite control of seedling recruitment in tundra.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Climate Impacts Research Centre, Umeå University, Abisko, Sweden.


The inclusion of environmental variation in studies of recruitment is a prerequisite for realistic predictions of the responses of vegetation to a changing environment. We investigated how seedling recruitment is affected by seed availability and microsite quality along a steep environmental gradient in dry tundra. A survey of natural seed rain and seedling density in vegetation was combined with observations of the establishment of 14 species after sowing into intact or disturbed vegetation. Although seed rain density was closely correlated with natural seedling establishment, the experimental seed addition showed that the microsite environment was even more important. For all species, seedling emergence peaked at the productive end of the gradient, irrespective of the adult niches realized. Disturbance promoted recruitment at all positions along the environmental gradient, not just at high productivity. Early seedling emergence constituted the main temporal bottleneck in recruitment for all species. Surprisingly, winter mortality was highest at what appeared to be the most benign end of the gradient. The results highlight that seedling recruitment patterns are largely determined by the earliest stages in seedling emergence, which again are closely linked to microsite quality. A fuller understanding of microsite effects on recruitment with implications for plant community assembly and vegetation change is provided.

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