Ground Layer Microhabitats Influence Recruitment of Longleaf Pine in an Old-growth Pine Savanna

Matthew D. Blanchard, Louisiana State University
William J. Platt, Louisiana State University


© 2021 University of Notre Dame. All rights reserved. Globally, savanna trees experience bottlenecks to recruitment. Likelihoods are low that juveniles, especially of nonclonal, reseeder species, will survive and reach sizes that survive recurrent fires. We hypothesized if ground layer vegetation within savannas contained patches with reduced fire effects, likelihoods of juvenile trees surviving fires would be increased. We refined our general hypothesis based on a field study in an old-growth southeastern pine savanna of North America, in which longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) is the most abundant tree. We hypothesized that recruitment of pines into the fire-resistant †grass stage' may be more likely in three ground layer microhabitats (inside crowns of fallen pines, around pine tree stumps, and inside patches of oak/hardwood stems) than in surrounding groundcover located away from overstory pines. We measured the composition and abundance of ground layer vegetation and censused juvenile grass stages (< 1.5 m height) of longleaf pine in plots in replicated patches of these three microhabitats and in the surrounding ground layer matrix, all located away from large trees. Ground layer vegetation was less abundant inside than outside the three microhabitats and abundances of grasses and shrubs differed among microhabitats. A zero-inflated Poisson model indicated that occurrence of grass stage longleaf pines was >5 times more likely inside the three microhabitats than in the surrounding ground layer matrix. Recruitment was also more likely in pine than oak/hardwood microhabitats. We propose that altered microhabitats, especially those generated by death of large longleaf pines, likely facilitate recruitment into populations of this reseeding savanna tree.