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Effect of Removal of Co-Occurring Species on Distribution and Abundance of Erythronium americanum (Liliaceae), a Spring Ephemeral

Jeffrey W. Hughes
American Journal of Botany
Vol. 79, No. 12 (Dec., 1992), pp. 1329-1336
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2445130
Page Count: 8
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Effect of Removal of Co-Occurring Species on Distribution and Abundance of Erythronium americanum (Liliaceae), a Spring Ephemeral
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Abstract

Growth of spring ephemerals in northern forests is limited to early spring when competition for resources from other species is at a minimum. The abundance of resources during this vernal period suggests that spring ephemerals might grow continuously over a wide range of sites, but distributions tend to be patchy. I hypothesized that co-occurring plants that grow later in the season compete for resources to a limited extent, but that competition from these other species is sufficient to restrict the spread of spring ephemerals into unoccupied sites. Population dynamics of Erythronium americanum were compared on sites at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire subjected to varying removals of co-occurring plants. During the 3-year period after removal of only overstory trees the density and frequency of occurrence of Erythronium increased by 225% and 180%, respectively, and removal of all co-occurring vegetation after 1 year's regrowth had an even more pronounced effect (400% and 195% increases, respectively). The abundance of Erythronium in the undisturbed forest did not change over the 3-year period. Elevational distribution of Erythronium also was directly related to the extent of removal of summer plants. Recruitment was mostly vegetative, but flower production on the tree removal site increased by a factor of six, and some distant sites apparently were colonized by seedlings. For several years following large-scale disturbances that eliminate co-occurring vegetation, the vernal growing season is lengthened and resources are more available, and spring ephemerals such as Erythronium americanum exploit these resource-rich opportunities to expand populations and colonize new sites. It appears that, as forest succession proceeds, the size and survival of newly established colonies are gradually constrained by competition from co-occurring species that grow later in the season.

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