Journal Article

Tree litter and forest understorey vegetation: a conceptual framework to understand the effects of tree litter on a perennial geophyte, <i>Anemone nemorosa</i>

Marie Baltzinger, Frédéric Archaux and Yann Dumas

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 6, pages 1175-1184
Published in print May 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online March 2012 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcs047
Tree litter and forest understorey vegetation: a conceptual framework to understand the effects of tree litter on a perennial geophyte, Anemone nemorosa

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims

Litter is a key factor in structuring plant populations, through positive or negative interactions. The litter layer forms a mechanical barrier that is often strongly selective against individuals lacking hypocotyle plasticity. Litter composition also interacts with plant growth by providing beneficial nutrients or, inversely, by allowing harmful allelopathic leaching. As conspicuous litter fall accumulation is often observed under deciduous forests, interactions between tree litter and understorey plant populations are worthy of study.

Methods

In a 1-year ex-situ experiment, the effects of tree litter on the growth of Anemone nemorosa, a small perennial forest geophyte, were investigated. Three ‘litter quantity’ treatments were defined, representative of forest floor litter (199, 356·5 and 514 g m−2), which were crossed with five ‘litter composition’ treatments (Quercus petraea, Fagus sylvatica, Carpinus betulus, Q. petraea + F. sylvatica and Q. petraea + C. betulus), plus a no-litter control. Path analysis was then used to investigate the pathways linking litter characteristics and components of adult plant growth.

Key Results

As expected, the heavier the litter, the longer the petiole; rhizome growth, however, was not depreciated by the litter-induced petiole lengthening. Both rhizome mass increment and number of initiated buds marginally increased with the amount of litter. Rhizome mass increment was in fact determined primarily by leaf area and leaf life span, neither of which was unequivocally correlated with any litter characteristics. However, the presence of litter significantly increased leafing success: following a late frost event, control rhizomes growing in the absence of litter experienced higher leaf mortality before leaf unfolding.

Conclusions

The study questions the role of litter as a physical or chemical barrier to ground vegetation; to better understand this role, there is a need for ex-situ, longer-term experiments coupled with in-situ observations in the forest.

Keywords: Anemone nemorosa; forest flora; geophyte; litter composition; litter permeability; path analysis; spring ephemeral; temperate forest

Journal Article.  7551 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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