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  1. Abstract Aim

    Urbanization alters local environmental conditions and the ability of species to disperse between remnant habitat patches within the urban matrix. Nonetheless, despite the ongoing growth of urban areas worldwide, few studies have investigated the relative importance of dispersal and local environmental conditions for influencing species composition within urban and suburban landscapes. Here, we explore this question using spatial patterns of plant species composition.


    The Research Triangle area, which includes the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary, in central North Carolina, USA.

    Time period


    Major taxa studied

    Vascular plants.


    We sampled riparian forest plant communities along an urban‐to‐rural gradient and used redundancy analysis to identify predictors of species composition patterns for groups of species categorized by nativity and seed dispersal mode. We first compared the ability of different models of habitat connectivity (least‐cost paths that avoided urban land cover versus Euclidean and along‐stream distance) to explain spatial patterns of species composition. We then partitioned the variation in species composition explained by habitat connectivity models, local environmental conditions and measures of urbanization in the surrounding landscape.


    We found that several groups of native species were best explained by least‐cost path models that avoided urban development, suggesting that urbanization impedes dispersal within this landscape, particularly for short‐dispersed species. Environmental variables related to urbanization (e.g., temperature, stream incision) were important predictors of species composition for many species groups, but measures of urbanization in the surrounding landscape were more important for exotic than for native species.

    Main conclusions

    Our results demonstrate that urbanization influences plant species composition via its effects on both habitat connectivity and environmental conditions. However, the strength of these effects varies somewhat predictably across seed dispersal modes and between native and exotic species. These results highlight the importance of landscape‐scale planning for urban conservation.

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  2. 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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