Fernandes, P., Máguas, C. & Correia, O. (2017) Combined effects of climate, habitat, and disturbance on seedling establishment of Pinus pinaster and Eucalyptus globulus.Plant Ecology, 218(5), 501-515. DOI:10.1007/s11258-017-0706-1 (IF2017 1,759; Q2 Plant Sciences)
The natural expansion of forestry trees into habitats outside plantations is a concern for managers and conservationists. We studied seedling emergence and survival of the two main forestry species in Portugal: Eucalyptus globulus (exotic) and Pinus pinaster (native); using a seed addition experiment. Our main objective was to evaluate the combined effects of climate (mild-summer and warm-summer climate), habitat (oak forest and shrubland), and disturbance (vegetation removal and non-disturbance) on the seedling establishment of species in semi- and natural habitats. Furthermore, we tested the effect of the “sowing season” (autumn and spring) on seedling emergence and survival. Overall, seedling establishment of both species was enhanced by light and water. However, we found important interactions among climate, habitat, and disturbance on both species’ emergence and survival. The differences between habitats were more evident in the mild-summer climate than in the warm-summer climate. Our results also suggested that seedling survival may be enhanced by shrub cover in drier conditions (warm-summer climate). Eucalyptus globulus appears more sensitive to drought and disturbance changes than P. pinaster. In shrublands and mild-summer climate conditions, disturbance especially promoted E. globulus seedling establishment, while the forest canopy and the shade appeared to control it in both climatic conditions. After the first summer life, very low seedling survival was observed in both species, although the colonization of new areas appeared to be more limited for E. globulus. Our study suggests that climate conditions influence the effect (direction and intensity) of habitat and disturbance (plant–plant interactions) on seedling survival. Thus, the effect of light availability (forest canopy) and disturbance (vegetation removal) on these species establishment is climate context-dependent. This study presents very useful information to understand future shifts in these species distribution and has direct applications for the management of natural establishment outside the planted areas, and the management of the understorey to favor forest regeneration or limit forest colonization.