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The survival limitations of seedlings in Nanjenshan tropical rainforests, Taiwan
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Seedling dynamics and survival limitations are important as it is the initial stage of forest regeneration. In this research, I used the data of seedling survey, light measurements, and environment information in the Nanjenshan tropical rainforests to evaluate the seedling survival limitations. The tested survival limitations included habitats (abiotic factors), life-form (stratification strata of adult trees), phenology (seasonality of germination), species functional groups (shade-tolerant levels), and the interactions with biotic factors. I used survival analysis (Kaplan-Meier curves and Cox regressions) to analyze the effects of each factor. Additionally, I evaluated species light gradients by mean, maximum and minimum light transmittances.
The study period was from October 2009 to January 2017, which lasted for 7.5 years with 30 censuses. The survival limitations of seedlings were separated into three main factors: species characteristics, biotic factors, and abiotic factors. I used species functional groups, life-form performances and initial heights to represent species characteristics. Litter covers, animal activities, and neighboring herbaceous plant cover were treated as biotic factors. Moreover, rockiness, slope, and aspect were represented abiotic factors.
During the study period, 1810 recruits were recorded, belonging to 42 species. Among these recruits, 404 recruits belonging to 40 species had survived ≥ one year. The seasonal germination and mortality were different between species, but not between species functional groups. For species life-form and species functional groups, the proportions of the seedlings ≥ one-year-old were higher for shrubs and shade-tolerant species.
For light gradients, the mean of LIW (the mean light transmittance of a seedling's whole life) was 1.62% among all the species, and LIF (the mean light transmittance of a seedling's first survived year) of all recruits ranged from 0.02% to 26.96%. Species light gradients are somewhat overlapping, but some species still have significant differences from each other. In mean and maximum light transmittances, there were differences between species but not in minimum light transmittances. These result indicated that the light partitioning might differ in high light transmittance of species. In different species functional groups, shade-intolerant species appeared and survived in various light environments, but shade-tolerant species was not found in high light environments.
For the survival curves, the lifetime of shade-intolerant species was significantly shorter than the shade-tolerant species and shade-mid-tolerant species. Furthermore, Cox regression showed that shade-tolerant levels and life-form performances are important for all the recruits. Initial heights, neighboring herbaceous plant cover, and LIW had positive effects on seedlings' survival for all the recruits. Additionally, herbivore damage proportion, LIB (the light transmittances before a seedling died), and rockiness had significantly negative effects on seedlings' survival. However, when considering only those seedlings had survived ≥ one year, these seedlings were only influenced by the positive effect of initial height and the negative effect of herbivore damage proportions.
In different life-form performances, canopy trees had the largest number of recruits, but the fewest number of seedlings ≥ one-year-old. Additionally, the shade-tolerant levels could be divided into two classes of shade-intolerant species and others. The effects of rockiness were significantly negative for all the recruits, but not significant for ≥ one-year-old seedlings. As a results, species also showed different habitat niches.
For biotic factors, neighboring herbaceous plants positively affected all seedlings' survival, due to the same environment were both suitable for neighboring herbaceous plants and seedlings. Herbivore damage proportions negatively affected seedlings' survival.
This research found that the species characteristics, abiotic and biotic factors all in some degree limited the survival of seedlings. However, when a seedling had survived for at least a year, it was mainly influenced by individual-specific factors such as herbivore damage proportion and initial height. Also, for various light gradients of species, the species' survived light gradients might be influenced more by the mean and maximum light transmittances compared to minimum light transmittances. Different functional groups also showed different ranges of light gradients, for example, shade-intolerant species appeared both in high and low light environment, however, shade-tolerant species and shade-mid-tolerant species didn't.
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