Grman, E. 2013. Seedling light limitation does not increase across a natural productivity gradient. Journal of Plant Ecology 6:193-200.
A key idea in plant community ecology is that the identity of the limiting resource shifts from soil nutrients in low productivity sites to light in high productivity sites. This idea, and its implications for plant community structure, has been tested many times in artificial productivity gradients (fertilization studies), but whether it applies to natural productivity gradients is unclear.Methods To test whether seedling light limitation would increase across a natural productivity gradient, I conducted a cross-site field experiment in southwest Michigan, USA. At each of six old fields naturally varying in productivity, I exposed transplanted seedlings of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) to a light addition (tie-back) treatment that increased light availability and measured their biomass after one and two growing seasons.Important Findings Seedlings responded positively to the tie-back treatment, but positive responses did not increase across the natural productivity gradient. These results suggest that although light does limit seedling establishment, the strength of light limitation does not depend on variation in productivity in natural systems. Instead, light limitation interacted with a variety of site differences to determine establishment. Although the general principle that light limitation increases with productivity is well established, these results indicate that it may not always occur in natural systems.
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