Species-Specific Barriers to Tree Regeneration in High Elevation Habitats of West Virginia


B. Griscom, email bronsongriscom@aya.yale.edu


Herbaceous competition and herbivory have been identified as critical barriers to restoration of native tree species in degraded landscapes around the world; however, the combined effects of competition and herbivory are poorly understood. We experimentally manipulated levels of herbivory and herbaceous competition and analyzed the response of tree seedling performance over three growing seasons as a function of species and habitat in north-central West Virginia. Four native tree species were planted in old field and forest experimental plots: Castanea dentata (American chestnut), Quercus rubra (red oak), Acer saccharum (sugar maple), and Picea rubens (red spruce). Red spruce demonstrated the highest growth increment and greatest survival (64%) and most consistent results among treatments and habitats. Red spruce survival was not reduced in the presence of Odocoileus virginianus (white-tailed deer) browse and herbaceous competition; however, growth was improved by suppression of herbaceous competition. We suspect that this deciduous forest landscape would regenerate to a red spruce dominated forest if seed source was available. In contrast, the other three species tested had very low survival when exposed to deer and were more responsive to competing vegetation and habitat type. American chestnut had low survival and growth across all treatments, suggesting basic climate limitations. Vigorous natural regeneration of Prunus serotina (black cherry) occurred in forest plots where both competing herbs and deer were excluded. Our results demonstrated the importance of testing multiple potential recruitment barriers and species at once and the need for species and habitat-specific restoration treatments.