Spatio-temporal dynamics of seedling communities are determined by seed input and habitat filtering in a subtropical montane forest

Spatial and temporal variation in species abundances and distributions of the seedling community, which plays a pivotal role in maintaining species diversity, can help predict future changes in forest communities. We monitored the dynamics of 12,830 seedlings within 405 1-m2 seedling plots in the Badagongshan (BDGS) 25-ha forest dynamic plot over a 6-year period (2012–2017). We presented changes in the relative abundance for 15 dominant seedling species during the last six years, assessed temporal changes in species richness, species turnover, seedling density, species reordering (mean rank shift of the relative abundance; MRS) and community similarity within three topographically defined habitats (ridge, slope and valley), and explored the mechanisms underlying dynamics of seedling communities. Furthermore, we explored differences in species’ ecological indicator values (EIVs) and functional groups for species gained and lost during the study period. Across three habitat types, there were enormous reordering of the 15 dominant seedling species; a few mast-seedling events were clearly identified. Both species richness and seedling density continually declined over the entire census year, except for an increase of species richness during 2012–2013. Species turnover fluctuated temporally in three habitat types; overall, species emigration rate was higher than species immigration rate in three habitats. Valleys with lower soil C:N ratio, light availability and VDCN (vertical distance above the channel network), but higher soil pH and TWI (topographic wetness index), had lower species richness and stem density, and higher species turnover and species reordering than slopes and ridges. At the community-wide scale, significant directional changes in species composition occurred on ridges and slopes. Newly colonizing species were typically more shade- tolerant, water- and temperature- demanding shrub species and grown on soil with low pH but high fertility. In the BDGS plot, species richness and seedling density fluctuated in the first two years and then decreased over time, which reflects that both habitat filtering and seed input regulated temporal dynamics of species composition, but the relative importance varied among studied years. In this subtropical forest, species composition showed obvious directional changes. Shrub species increased more than species of other strata in ridge and slope areas. It is worth noting that an increased dominance of species that are more water-demanding could increase the risk of mortality under global climate change (e.g. drought).

Yaozhan Xu, Dan Wan, Zhiqiang Xiao, Hao Wu, & Mingxi Jiang
Forest Ecology and Management