Species-habitat associations in an old-growth temperate forest in northeastern China

Background: Species coexistence mechanisms and maintenance of biodiversity have long been considered important components of community ecology research. As one of the important mechanisms, species coexistence theory based on niche differentiation has received attention in past years. Thus, topography, through the formation of habitat heterogeneity, affects species distributions and coexistence. A 30-ha dynamic plot of mixed broadleaved-Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) forest is located in the Heilongjiang Fenglin National Nature Reserve. We examined species–habitat associations using the torus-translation method. We aim to understand the habitat associations of different species, life forms (shrubs, trees), and shade tolerance (light-demanding, midtolerant, shade-tolerant) across life stages (sapling, juvenile and mature), providing further evidence for the role of niche theory in temperate forests.

Results: Of the 33 species we tested, 28 species (84.8%) were at least significantly associated with one habitat type. Positive associations were more frequent in the valley and slope (shady and sunny) and less frequent on the ridge. Thirty-four significant positive associations with the five habitats were detected at three life stages (11, 11 and 12 at the sapling stage, juvenile stage, and mature stage, respectively). The trees were positively associated with the valley, and the shrubs were positively associated with sunny and ridge. The majority of species’ habitat preferences shifted among different life stages; the exceptions were Corylus mandshuricaMaackia amurensisQuercus mongolicaPicea jezoensis and Acer ukurunduense, which had consistent associations with the same habitat at all stages. The midtolerant trees and midtolerant shrubs were positively correlated with sunny across the three life stages.

Conclusions: Most species show habitat preferences in the plot. These results indicate that niche theory plays an important role in species coexistence. Most species have no consistent association with habitat at different life stages.

Qi Liu, Lianzhu Bi, Guohua Song, Quanbo Wang, & Guangze Jin
BMC Ecology