A range of stands was sampled in the southern boreal forest of eastern Canada to determine the impact of forest development stages and light availability on the dynamics of an abundant understory shrub: mountain maple (Acer spicatum). Mountain maple was studied at both the population and individual stem levels. At the population level, a total of 190 1-m2 quadrats were sampled in five forest types representing a successional gradient (young aspen, mature aspen, mixedwood, shade-tolerant conifer, and old spruce budworm-affected conifer forests). At the individual stem level, a total of 100 stems of different sizes were harvested in a sub-sample of the quadrats. Mountain maple stem biomass, density, and population structure were found to be affected by forest composition, the coniferous forest being the least favourable. At the individual stem level, light availability and stem size were found to have an important impact on stem morphology and growth, suggesting a high level of plasticity in relation to canopy opening. From these results, four developmental phases of mountain maple population dynamics were identified: 1) following a drastic disturbance, a first phase of rapid growth, and potentially intense competition with aspen suckers, when present, takes place; 2) following the development of a closed aspen canopy, the overall density, biomass, and presence of mountain maple in the understory increase; 3) following recruitment of conifer trees into the overstory canopy, mountain maple enters a suppression phase associated with a decrease in light; and 4) following the occurrence of small scale disturbances, mountain maple quickly responds to rapidly dominate the openings, which further ensures its maintenance in the understory.
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