Altered Acer Rubrum Fecundity Induced By Chemical Climate Change

Friday, 19 December 2014
Jared L Deforest and Anna Peters, Ohio University, Environmental and Plant Biology, Athens, OH, United States
Red maple (Acer rubrum L.) is becoming the most dominating tree in North American eastern deciduous forests. Concurrently, human activities have altered the chemical climate of terrestrial ecosystems via acidic deposition, which increases the available of nitrogen (N), while decreasing phosphorus (P) availability. Once a minor forest component prior to European settlement, the abundance of red maple may be a symptom of the modern age. The current paradigm explaining red maple’s rise to prominence concerns fire suppression that excludes competitors. However, this still does not explain why red maple is unique compared to other functionally similar trees. The objective of this study was to investigate the interactive influence of acid rain mitigation on the fecundity of red maple. Objectives were achieved by measuring flowering, seed production, germination, and growth from red maple on plots that have been experimentally manipulated to increase soil pH, P, or both in three unglaciated eastern deciduous hardwood forests.

At least 50% of the red maple population is seed bearing in our control soils, however the median percent of seed-bearing trees declined to zero when mitigating soils from acidic deposition. This can be explained by the curious fact that red maple is polygamodioecious, or has labile sex-expression, in which an individual tree can change its sex-expression in response to the environment. Furthermore, seed-bearing trees in the mitigated plots grew less, produced less seeds, and germinated at lower rates than their counterparts in control soils. Our results provide evidence that chemical climate change could be the primary contributing factor accelerating the dominance of red maple in eastern North American forests. Our observations can provide a boarder conceptual framework for understanding how nutrient limitations can be applied beyond plant productivity towards explaining distribution changes in vegetation.