Document Type

Article

Journal/Book Title/Conference

PLoS ONE

Volume

11

Issue

8

Editor

Daniel Doucet, Natural Resources Canada, CANADA

Publication Date

2016

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0160324

Abstract

As forest communities continue to experience interactions between climate change and shifting disturbance regimes, there is an increased need to link ecological understanding to applied management. Limber pine (Pinus flexilis James.), an understudied species of western North America, has been documented to dominate harsh environments and thought to be competitively excluded from mesic environments. An observational study was conducted using the Forest Inventory and Analysis Database (FIAD) to test the competitive exclusion hypothesis across a broad elevational and geographic area within the Intermountain West, USA. We anticipated that competitive exclusion would result in limber pine’s absence from mid-elevation forest communities, creating a bi-modal distribution. Using the FIAD database, limber pine was observed to occur with 22 different overstory species, which represents a surprising number of the woody, overstory species commonly observed in the Intermountain West. There were no biologically significant relationships between measures of annual precipitation, annual temperature, or climatic indices (i.e. Ombrothermic Index) and limber pine dominance. Limber pine was observed to be a consistent component of forest communities across elevation classes. Of the plots that contained limber pine regeneration, nearly half did not have a live or dead limber pine in the overstory. However, limber pine regeneration was greater in plots with higher limber pine basal area and higher average annual precipitation. Our results suggest limber pine is an important habitat generalist, playing more than one functional role in forest communities. Generalists, like limber pine, may be increasingly important, as managers are challenged to build resistance and resilience to future conditions in western forests. Additional research is needed to understand how different silvicultural systems can be used to maintain multi-species forest communities.

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