Viability of Forest Floor and Canopy Seed Banks in Pinus contorta var. latifoia (Pinaceas) Forests After a Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreak

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American Journal of Botany

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  • Premise of the study: Seed banks are important for the natural regeneration of many forest species. Most of the seed bank of serotinous lodgepole pine is found in the canopy, but after an outbreak of mountain pine beetle (MPB), a considerable forest- floor seed bank develops through the falling of canopy cones. After large-scale mortality of pine stands from MPB, however, the viability of seeds in both the canopy and the forest-floor cone bank is uncertain.

  • Methods: We sampled cones in five stands 3 yr after MPB (3y-MPB); five stands 6 yr after MPB (6y-MPB); and 10 stands 9 yr after MPB (9y-MPB), in central British Columbia, Canada. Seeds were extracted and viability tested using germination techniques.

  • Key results: Forest-floor cones had seed with high germination capacity (GC): 82% for embedded (partly buried) closed cones vs. 45% for buried partly open cones. For canopy cones, GC steeply declined about 15 yr after cone maturation and by 25 yr, GC was 50%, compared with 98% in the first year. In the 3y- and 6y-MPB stands, seeds from cones that were 7 to 9 yr old had similar GC on dead and living trees; however, seeds from the dead trees had lower vigor than seeds from living trees.

  • Conclusions: We demonstrate for the first time that a serotinous pine can form a viable soil seed bank by cone burial, which may facilitate natural regeneration if a secondary disturbance occurs. Seeds contained in 15-yr-old cones showed a steep decline in viability, which could limit regeneration if there is a long delay before a secondary disturbance.