Disruption of the competitive balance between foundational tree species by interacting stressors in a temperate deciduous forest

TitleDisruption of the competitive balance between foundational tree species by interacting stressors in a temperate deciduous forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsCleavitt, NL, Battles, JJ, Fahey, TJ, van Doorn, NS
JournalJournal of Ecology
Date Published2021///
ISBN Number1365-2745
KeywordsAcer saccharum, battles_j, cleavitt_n, Competition, Fagus grandifolia, fahey_t, Long-term data, LTER-HBR, northern hardwood forest, vandoorn_n

The complex effects of global environmental changes on ecosystems result from the interaction of multiple stressors, their direct impacts on species and their indirect impacts on species interactions. Air pollution (and resulting depletion of soil base cations) and biotic invasion (e.g. beech bark disease [BBD] complex) are two stressors that are affecting the foundational tree species of northern hardwood forests, sugar maple and American beech, in northeastern North America. At the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, a watershed-scale calcium (Ca) addition in 1999 restored soil Ca that had been lost as a result of acid deposition in a maple-beech forest that was severely affected by BBD beginning in the 1970s. We present historic data from the reference watershed for BBD progression, 20 years of comparative forest data from the treated and reference watersheds, and tree demographic rates for the most recent decade. We hypothesized that mitigation of soil acidification on the treated watershed in the presence of BBD would favour improved performance of sugar maple, a species that is particularly sensitive to base cation depletion. We observed significant responses of seed production, seedling bank composition, sapling survival and recruitment, and tree mortality and growth to the restoration of soil Ca, indicating that acid rain depletion of soil base cations has influenced demographic rates of maple and beech. Overall, the reduced performance of sugar maple on acidified soils may indirectly favour the persistence of diseased beech trees and a greater abundance of beech vegetative sprouts, effectively promoting the chronic presence of severe BBD in the population. Synthesis. The shifting conditions created by global change have altered long-term demographic rates and may thereby impact competitive interactions in the current centre of these species ranges and have more profound implications for species persistence and migration potential than previously anticipated.