Physiological performance of three pine species provides evidence for gap partitioning

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Gradients of light and moisture availability peak at different positions within canopy gaps in northern latitudes providing the opportunity for niche partitioning in and around gaps based on differences in individual species' life history attributes. This gap partitioning offers potential for increasing diversity in forests impacted by gap-creating disturbances. We examined resource availability and the physiological performance of three Pinus species with varying tolerances for shade and moisture stress across large (0.3 ha) canopy gaps to investigate relationships between gap position and species performance. Light availability was lowest in southern gap edges, while water availability was lowest in northern edges, and higher at gap interior positions than edges. Pinus banksiana seedlings had higher light-saturated CO2 assimilation rates than P. resinosa or P. strobus seedlings at interior gap positions, and outperformed P. strobus at northern gap edges, but there were no differences between species at southern edges. Both transpiration and stomatal conductance were greatest for P. banksiana in gap centers, but showed few differences between species at edges. Foliar nitrogen concentrations were highest for P. banksiana, suggesting the dominance of this species in central gap locations may be due to a combination of high photosynthetic capacity and tight stomatal control to regulate moisture stress at drier gap positions. Our results suggest P. banksiana seedlings may be competitively superior in gap positions with high light and moisture availability, but P. resinosa and P. strobus become competitive under the drier conditions and moderate shade near gap edges. These findings support the concept of gap partitioning, and suggest silvicultural systems that incorporate patch cuttings could be used to promote diverse regeneration in northern pine forests. © 2008 Elsevier B.V.

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Forest Ecology and Management