Biotic and abiotic drivers of tree seedling recruitment across an alpine treeline ecotone

Sci Rep. 2018 Jul 18;8(1):10894. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-28808-w.


Treeline responses to climate change ultimately depend on successful seedling recruitment, which requires dispersal of viable seeds and establishment of individual propagules in novel environments. In this study, we evaluated the effects of several abiotic and biotic drivers of early tree seedling recruitment across an alpine treeline ecotone. In two consecutive years, we sowed seeds of low- and high-elevation provenances of Larix decidua (European larch) and Picea abies (Norway spruce) below, at, and above the current treeline into intact vegetation and into open microsites with artificially removed surface vegetation, as well as into plots protected from seed predators and herbivores. Seedling emergence and early establishment in treatment and in control plots were monitored over two years. Tree seedling emergence occurred at and several hundred metres above the current treeline when viable seeds and suitable microsites for germination were available. However, dense vegetation cover at lower elevations and winter mortality at higher elevations particularly limited early recruitment. Post-dispersal predation, species, and provenance also affected emergence and early establishment. This study demonstrates the importance of understanding multiple abiotic and biotic drivers of early seedling recruitment that should be incorporated into predictions of treeline dynamics under climate change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biota*
  • Climate Change*
  • Ecosystem
  • Germination
  • Norway
  • Picea / physiology*
  • Pinus / physiology*
  • Seasons
  • Seedlings / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Trees / physiology*