Mature eastern hemlock–northern hardwood forest cover decreased drastically in the upper Midwest following European settlement and has yet to rebound substantially. Previous studies show that stands retaining substantial hemlock canopy coverage have low hemlock seedling and sapling densities. Results from various geographically restricted studies suggest several possible mechanisms that could cause low seedling or sapling density. We examined the relative importance of these proposed mechanisms in the Southern Superior Uplands Section of the Laurentian Forest Province. We surveyed 294- m2 plots in 100 hemlock stands in northern Wisconsin and western upper Michigan to assess how these proposed mechanisms affect the number of hemlock seedlings and saplings in four sequential size classes. Seedling and sapling abundance increases with greater light availability and differs significantly among geographically distinct ecological units (ecological subsections). In contrast, the abundance of medium and large saplings (30–99 and 100–300 cm tall) appears unrelated to light and geographic factors but declines as deer browsing increases, diminishing recruitment of larger saplings. The abundance of seedlings and saplings in each size class also depends strongly on the number of seedlings or saplings in the next smaller size class at the same site, reflecting demographic inertia. Path analysis integrates and separates these effects, explaining 24% of the regional variation in seedling abundance, 63% of small sapling abundance, and ~80% of medium and large sapling abundance. Light and ecological subsection directly affect the number of seedlings and small saplings, whereas deer browsing directly affects the number of medium saplings. Demographic inertia remains important for all larger size classes. These results imply that restoring hemlock populations requires both appropriate microsites for seedling establishment and sanctuary from excessive browse for successful recruitment.
Rooney, T. P.,
McCormick, R. J.,
Solheim, S. L.,
& Waller, D. M.
(2000). Regional Variation in Recruitment of Hemlock Seedlings and Saplings in the Upper Great Lakes, USA. Ecological Applications, 10 (4), 1119-1132.