Acer saccharum response to concurrent disturbances: The importance of stem layering as an adaptive trait

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For shade-tolerant saplings persisting under heavy forest shade, the probability of release by disturbance is directly related to longevity. We examined the effects of two concurrent disturbances, overstory removal and herbivory, on the regeneration dynamics and release response of Acer saccharum Marsh. within 20 artificial canopy gaps ranging in size from 50 to 450 m2. To examine the influence of herbivory, we constructed arrays of deer exclosures within each canopy gap. Five years after gap creation, A. saccharum dominated the taller sapling classes across the entire range of gap sizes examined, and evidence of stem layering in this species was common across all treatments (52%), especially in taller saplings. The presence of stem layering was significantly associated with greater postdisturbance height growth (P < 0.001), regardless of gap area or herbivory. The increase in height of layered A. saccharum on control plots was in spite of the fact that 70% of these saplings were browsed at least once following gap creation; compared with 46% of nonlayered individuals. Consequently, our results suggest that stem layering likely fosters resilience in the face of complex or interacting disturbances and may be an important trait for forecasting gap capture and succession.

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Canadian Journal of Forest Research