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  1. Abstract

    The maintenance of tree diversity has been explained by multiple mechanisms. One of the most thoroughly studied is conspecific negative density dependence, in which specialist plant enemies reduce survivorship of seeds, seedlings or saplings located near adult conspecifics. Although there is much support that conspecific negative density dependence occurs in temperate forests, only a subset of the species investigated thus far exhibit this recruitment pattern. It remains unclear what drives differential susceptibility to conspecifics among tree species. Previous investigators have considered shade tolerance and mycorrhizal type (arbuscular mycorrhizal vs. ectomycorrhizal association) as two traits that might explain differential susceptibility to conspecific negative density dependence.

    Here, we test whether these two plant traits predict susceptibility of tree saplings to conspecific negative density dependence in a temperate hardwood forest using three responses: spatial point patterns of saplings, sapling growth and sapling survival.

    Spatial patterns of saplings indicate that shade tolerant species are less sensitive to conspecifics than shade intolerant species, but show no differences based on mycorrhizal type. Conversely, shade tolerant saplings exhibit reduced growth, but not survival, when located in areas with high conspecific density. We interpret this finding in light of the conservative functional strategies of shade tolerant species, which typically have low leaf nitrogen levels and slower growth to divert resources to tissue defence against enemies. We found an effect of mycorrhizal type interacting with adult conspecific density, where arbuscular mycorrhizal species show a greater reduction in growth than ectomycorrhizal species in areas dense with conspecifics.

    Synthesis. We conclude that the shade tolerance level and the mycorrhizal type of temperate forest saplings may influence how their growth and survival respond to the adult conspecific trees in their neighbourhoods.

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