Asynchronous recruitment dynamics of snowshoe hares and white spruce in a boreal forest.
ABSTRACT : Herbivores have the capacity to modify plant community composition and ecosystem structure and function via browsing. For example, moose and snowshoe hare facilitate succession in Alaska’s boreal forest by preferentially browsing early successional species over late successional conifers. Snowshoe hares also eat conifers, including white spruce, and this browsing may affect the pattern of spruce establishment over time. We measured over 800 spruce at 18 locations along the Tanana River floodplain in interior Alaska, USA and demonstrated that the proportion of spruce browsed annually positively correlates with annual hare abundance. Nearly all seedlings sampled had been browsed. Further, we modeled the pattern of spruce establishment over the last 40 years and found that hare abundance, growing season temperature, early season snow depth, and flooding explain the majority of this pattern. This model demonstrated that less spruce established during periods of high hare abundance than during periods of low hare abundance. The extensive browsing of white spruce that occurs during periods of high hare abundance may further compound the negative effects of climate warming on spruce recruitment in these floodplain forests.
Forest Ecology and Management. Volume : 384
The Bonanza Creek LTER is a member of the U.S. LTER Network which is supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB-1636476) and by the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station (RJVA-PNW-01-JV-11261952-231). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.