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Keywords:

  • Acer saccharum;
  • boreal forest;
  • climate warming;
  • disturbance;
  • invasion;
  • range expansion

Abstract

Aim  To evaluate whether seedlings of sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) can establish beyond the species northern range limit in adjacent boreal forest.

Location  The hardwood–boreal forest transition zone on the north-east shore of Lake Superior, Ontario, Canada.

Methods  Seed fall of sugar maple was monitored for 5 years in a stand of this species at its northern range limit, and seed from this stand was transplanted to five micro-habitat types in an adjacent boreal forest. The establishment and survival of sugar maple seedlings there, and in the seed-source stand, was monitored for the following 7–11 years. Soil-surface light levels were measured in both forest types.

Results  Most seed fell in the final year of monitoring, when c. 250 seeds m−2 were recorded. First-year seedling establishment rates in the maple stand, deriving from this mast seed year, was approximately double that deriving from seed transplanted to the boreal forest sites; this is tentatively attributed to seed predator satiation in the maple stand. However, subsequent seedling survivorship in the boreal forest was greater than that in the maple stand, resulting in comparable seedling densities by the end of 6 years. This difference is tentatively attributed to better illumination in the boreal forest sites, and canopy-opening disturbances appear to be especially facilitative of seedling survival.

Main conclusions  There is no fundamental impediment to sugar maple seedlings establishing in boreal forest communities if climate warming occurs and seed is available. If management intervention is needed to accelerate seed availability in a rapidly warming boreal forest, then diffuse seed application to disturbed boreal forest sites during mast years of local boreal tree species is recommended as the most effective way of avoiding seed predation and increasing seedling survival.