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Seed and seedling ecology of pinon and juniper species in the pygmy woodlands of western North America

Seed and seedling ecology of pinon and juniper species in the pygmy woodlands of western North America

Botanical Review 65(1): 1-38

ISSN/ISBN: 0006-8101

Knowledge of the seed and seedling ecology of the pinon and juniper woodlands of western North America is essential for understanding both the northward migration and expansion of the woodlands during the Holocene (<11,500 B.P.), and the accelerated expansion of the woodlands since settlement of the West by Anglo-Americans around 200 years ago. We follow the fates of seeds and seedlings of the different pinon and juniper species within the woodlands from seed development to seedling establishment, and discuss the implications of this information for the past and present expansion of the woodlands. While seed development requires about two and one-half years in pinons, it is species-dependent in junipers and can take one, two, or even three years. Substantial seed losses can occur during seed development due to developmental constraints, and before or after seed maturation as a result of insects, pathogens, or predatory animals. In pinon pines, the primary seed dispersers are scatterhoarding birds (corvids) and rodents that harvest seeds from the trees or after seed fall and cache them in the soil. In contrast, most junipers appear to be dispersed primarily by frugivorous birds and mammals that ingest the seeds and defecate them onto the soil surface. We have recently documented that scatter-hoarding rodents also disperse juniper seeds. Disperser effectiveness, or the contribution a disperser makes to the future reproduction of a plant population, may vary among species of pinons and especially junipers. Pinon seeds are short-lived and exhibit little dormancy, and they probably only germinate the spring following dispersal. Juniper seeds are long-lived and seed dispersal can occur over one or more years. Seed germination can be delayed for several years due to impermeable seed coats, embryo dormancy, or the presence of inhibitors. Seedling establishment of pinon pines is facilitated by nurse plants but, while junipers often establish beneath nurse plants, they are capable of establishing in open environments. In the southwestern United States, higher establishment of juniper occurs in open environments due to more favorable precipitation, and competition may be more important than facilitation in determining establishment. When considering the mechanisms involved in the past and present expansion of the woodlands, short-distance dispersal, local population growth, and long-distance dispersal are all important. Different classes of dispersers, some of which appear to have coevolved with the tree species, appear to be responsible for local (short-distance) vs. long-distance dispersal in pinons and junipers. Because ecotones form the interface between the woodlands and adjacent communities, they can provide valuable information on both the seed dispersal and seedling establishment processes responsible for tree expansion. Disturbance regimes and, recently, the effects of humans on those regimes have major effects on the expansion and contraction of the woodlands. Before Anglo-American settlement, fires occurred as frequently as every 50-100 years throughout much of the woodlands. During this century, fire frequencies have been reduced due to the indirect effects of livestock grazing and the direct effects of removing Native Americans from the ecosystem and implementing active fire-prevention programs. The result has been an increase in tree-dominated successional stages at the expense of grass-dominated stages. Various management techniques, including controlled burning and chaining, have been implemented to reduce tree dominance, but their effects depend largely on the life histories of the tree species and the disturbance characteristics. Several areas relating to the seed and seedling ecology of the pinon and juniper require additional research if we are to truly understand the dynamics of the woodlands. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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Seed and Seedling Ecology of Pion and Juniper Species in the Pygmy Woodlands of Western North America. Botanical Review 65(1): 1-38, 1999

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