The present study investigates potential differences in trait plasticity as an additional contributing mechanism explaining ericaceous shrub dominance during different periods after logging. Two ericaceous species (Kalmia angustifolia, Rhododendron groenlandicum), and black spruce plants (Picea mariana), were submitted to combinations of 3 light levels and 2 levels of nitrogen addition during a simulated growing season of 9 weeks under greenhouse conditions. Plant traits related to light (photosynthesis, leaf mass per unit of area, leaf and aboveground biomass allocation, foliar N concentration) and nutrient acquisition (root mass ratio, specific absorption ratio, absorption of 15N) were measured in response to the manipulation of these resources. The leaf mass per unit of area (LMA) of both ericaceous species was significantly reduced by shading; LMA of Rhododendron and Kalmia was, respectively, 54% and 31% higher in the highest light treatment. The LMA of black spruce was unchanged in response to light level. There were few differences among species in trait response to N addition. Black spruce was characterized by higher nutrient absorption rate and specific absorption rate at higher N levels compared to the 2 ericads. With the exception of LMA, plasticity to light was higher for Kalmia; in contrast, plasticity to N addition was higher for Rhododendron and black spruce. Finally, LMA appears to be a key trait explaining the competitive advantage of ericaceous species (especially Rhododendron) and potential encroachment on forested sites after disturbance.
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Vol. 18 • No. 4