Facilitation of Seedling Microsites by Rhododendron caucasicum Extends the Betula litwinowii Alpine Treeline, Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Georgia

Akhalkatsi, Maia and Abdaladze, Otar and Nakhutsrishvili, Gia and Smith, William K (2006) Facilitation of Seedling Microsites by Rhododendron caucasicum Extends the Betula litwinowii Alpine Treeline, Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Georgia. Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research , 38 (4). pp. 481-488. ISSN 1523-0430

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In the Central Greater Caucasus Mountains, Georgia, Betula litwinowii (birch) occurs on north-facing slopes of east-west ridgelines that extend upward to high mountain peaks, forms the alpine timberline at higher elevation, and reaches its highest treeline limit only when associated with the broadleaf evergreen shrub, Rhododendron caucasicum. This association might generate an ecological facilitation of either temperatures or sky exposure, both of which have been related to the altitudes at which timberlines/treelines occur. At the lowest site (2072 m) the greatest abundance of birch seedlings (up to 2.3 seedlings/m 2) occurred at shaded microsites beneath the B. litwinowii overstory and along shaded north-facing walls of polyhedral soil depressions just beyond this treeline. These seedling microsites also had substantially colder air and soil temperature regimes than more sun-exposed microsites. Similarly, at the highest elevation site (2512 m) the second greatest seedling abundance (0.73 seedlings/m 2) occurred in the shaded understory beneath R. caucasicum. Moreover, these microsites had the coldest minimum air and soil temperatures (21.3uC at 5 cm depths), along with the greatest number of days (40) with minimum soil temperatures ,5uC recorded for the measurement period (11 July to 25 October 2003). In addition to the lowest number of seedlings, the more sun-exposed microsites at all sites also had the greatest percent (28–32%) of red leaves per plant, indicative of high concentrations of photoprotective anthocyanins. Thus, reduced sky exposure, and not cold temperature effects, was associated with greater seedling abundance and fewer red leaves per seedling, despite colder temperature regimes. Thus, facilitation of B. litwinowii seedling establishment by the R. caucasicum overstory appeared to extend the maximum altitude of the Betula treeline via reductions in sunlight exposure, despite lower temperatures.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Q Science > Ecology
Q Science > QK Botany
Depositing User: Prof.Dr. Maia Akhalkatsi
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2014 19:40
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2015 11:29
URI: http://eprints.iliauni.edu.ge/id/eprint/640

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