To elucidate broad-scale environmental controls of coniferous forest reproduction in the Sierra Nevada, California, we monitored reproduction for 5 years in 47 plots arrayed across a steep elevational (climatic) gradient. We found that both absolute seedling densities (stems < 1.37 m) and seedling densities relative to overstory parent tree basal area declined sharply with elevation. Rates of seedling turnover (the average of birth and death rates) also declined with elevation. In contrast, seed production was not predicted by elevation and was highly variable from year to year. During a mast year of seed production, the intensity of masting was uneven among plots. Seedling densities were elevated only during the single year immediately following the mast year, suggesting reproduction in our forests may be primarily limited by abiotic factors such as the availability of suitable sites and weather. Disturbance also clearly affected reproduction; plots that had recently burned had significantly higher seedling to parent tree ratios for Abies species, suggesting that even though established Abies concolor may be relatively susceptible to fire, the species can recover rapidly through prolific reproduction. Since reproductive failures may be our earliest signal of changing forest conditions, seedling dynamics could provide a sensitive, if variable, indicator of environmental changes. ?? 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Forest reproduction along a climatic gradient in the Sierra Nevada, California