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Vegetation composition, structure and soil properties across coastal forest-barren ecotones

Scott T. Burley, Karen A. Harper and Jeremy T. Lundholm
Plant Ecology
Vol. 211, No. 2 (DECEMBER 2010), pp. 279-296
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40926908
Page Count: 18
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Vegetation composition, structure and soil properties across coastal forest-barren ecotones
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Abstract

Coastal barrens support rare plant species but may be threatened by forest encroachment. We determined whether trees spread into coastal barren habitat from forest patches and assessed plant species composition and soil properties across the forestbarren ecotone. We quantified tree age and height, soil properties, and vascular plant, bryophyte and lichen species composition along transects perpendicular to the edges of tree patches within the forestbarren ecotone in coastal Nova Scotia. Randomization tests assessed whether the vegetation and environmental characteristics were significantly different in the transition zone compared to one or both adjoining ecosystems. We used ordination to examine trends in species composition across the ecotone and the relationship to environmental variables. Tree age and height decreased continuously from the forest towards the edge of the forest patches. There were also trends in vegetation composition and structure from the forest into the open barrens. Many species were most abundant within the transition zone, although not always significantly. Soil properties were relatively uniform across the ecotone. The structure and vegetation of the forest-barren ecotone suggests that forest patches act as nuclei for forest expansion on barrens with a typical successional pathway where coastal barren vegetation is gradually replaced by forest species. This encroachment may pose a threat to rare barrens communities. While landscape factors such as salt spray and wind exposure may determine the general locations where forest can establish, biotic processes of growth and dispersal appear to govern the fine-scale expansion of tree patches.

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