Recruitment of Quercus agrifolia in central California: the importance of shrub-dominated patches

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Abstract

Abstract. Many perennial plants strongly enhance the survival of seedlings of other species. We studied patterns of long-term recruitment of Quercus agrifolia (Coastal live oak) associated with shrub-dominated communities by counting Q. agrifolia recruits on a time sequence of historical aerial photographs and comparing recruitment among mapped patches of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and grassland in an 1120-ha landscape. Because we could not identify new recruits in existing woodlands with aerial photographs, we studied the recruitment of Q. agrifolia in this vegetation type indirectly by comparing population size structures and the spatial relationships between shrubs and recruits among woodlands that varied in understory community type. At the landscape scale, recruitment was higher in coastal sage scrub vegetation than predicted by the extent of its coverage, commensurate with the spatial coverage of chaparral, and very low in grassland. Recruitment within woodland communities also varied considerably. In woodland communities on sheltered, north-oriented topography with understories dominated by shrubs, there were large numbers of small Q. agrifolia, and recruits were not significantly spatially associated with shrubs within plots. In woodlands with herbaceous understories there were few individuals in the small size classes, and recruits were strongly spatially associated with shrubs within plots. Woodlands with shrub-dominated understories have population structures that appear to be stable, but woodlands with herbaceous understories exhibit size structures associated with declining populations. Quercus recruitment into shrub-dominated patches corresponds with previous documentation of facilitative relationships between shrubs and oak seedlings, and suggests the occurrence of an unusual form of patch dynamics in these landscapes.

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