Age structure and spatial patterning of Trillium populations in old-growth forests

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


We investigated the spatial cohort structure of Trillium populations in old-growth cove forests in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN, USA). We mapped the locations of all Trillium erectum L., Trillium grandiflorum (Michaux) Salisbury, and Trillium vaseyi Harbison occurring within two 10 × 10 m sample plots at each of three old-growth sites-Anthony Creek, Cove Mountain, and Kalanu Prong. The height and life stage of each individual were recorded and a randomly selected subset was excavated for age determination. Our results suggest that Trillium populations in cove forests of the southern Appalachians display a high degree of spatial aggregation and are relatively stable, spatially, over long time periods (i.e., decades). Individual patches (aggregations of plants) within populations were typically multi-aged and no clear spatial cohort structure was observed. Surprisingly, more isolated plants (distal from large aggregations) were among the oldest plants in the population, rather than recent colonists dispersing away from parent populations. Individual species were less mingled than expected given that they share a common dispersal agent (ants). This study provides a double-baseline for Trillium population structure in old, primary forests with low browse pressure.

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Plant Ecology