Abstract. The tree species comprising Pinus-Juniperus woodlands are rapidly expanding into shrub-grasslands throughout their range. Observational studies indicate that establishment is facilitated by nurse plants, but little information exists on the mechanisms involved. I examined both abiotic and biotic factors influencing Pinus monophylla establishment in Artemisia tridentata steppe with expanding populations of P. monophylla and Juniperus osteosperma. I determined soil water contents, temperatures, and nutrient characteristics for the primary establishment microhabitats, i.e. under Pinus, under Juniperus, under Artemisia, tree interspace and sage interspace, and evaluated the emergence and survival response of two seedling cohorts over a 3-yr period for the different microhabitats.
I also examined the effects of seed burial and predation on seedling establishment. Microhabitats under trees and shrubs had higher extractable P and K, higher organic matter, total nitrogen and cation exchange capacity than interspace microhabitats. Soil water contents (0–15 cm) were lower in interspaces than under shrubs or trees due to dry surface (0–5 cm) soils. Soil temperatures (at 1 and 15 cm) were lowest under trees, intermediate under shrubs, and highest in interspaces. Timing and rate of seedling emergence were temperature dependent with the order of emergence paralleling mean growing season temperatures: tree interspace = shrub interspace > under shrub > under Juniperus under Pinus. Seed burial was required for rooting and the highest emergence occurred from depths of 1 and 3 cm indicating that caching by birds and rodents is essential and that animals bury seeds at adequate if not optimal depths for emergence. Seedlings required microenvironmental modification for survival; all seedlings, including those that emerged from seeds and transplants, died within the first year in interspace microhabitats. Survival in under-tree or under-shrub microhabitats depended on soil water availability and corresponded closely to soil water contents over the 3-yr study. Under-shrub microhabitats had more favourable soil and micro-environmental characteristics than under-tree microhabitats and had the highest seedling life spans for the first-year seedling cohort. Predation of Pinus seedlings by rodents was a significant cause of mortality with caged transplants exhibiting life spans that were 74% longer overall than uncaged transplants. Emergence and survival of P. monophylla within the expanding woodland were dependent upon a complex set of interacting factors including growing season conditions, microhabitat characteristics, and animal species.