In southern Mediterranean Pinus sylvestris forests there are grassy meadows that resist invasion of trees despite the proximity to seed sources. In this study, we investigate the mechanisms blocking colonization by Pinus sylvestris of the meadows. Two experiments were conducted in which seeds were sown either at 1 cm depth or on the surface to simulate dispersal, and three treatments of vegetation removal were applied: Disturbed (where the herbaceous layer was eliminated, exposing the mineral soil), Clipped (vegetation cut at ground level) and Control (no disturbance of the herbaceous layer). In addition, the effect of seed predators was controlled by using wire cages in the case of the surface sown experiment.
When seeds were sown at 1 cm depth, seedling emergence was not reduced by the herbaceous layer. In contrast, when seeds were surface sown and predators were excluded, the rate of emergence was low in the Control treatment, intermediate in Clipped and high in Disturbed. Seedling emergence was, however, minimal when predators were not excluded, irrespective of the disturbance level. Seedling survival and growth after three years of study were similar among treatments. The results show that the seed predation and the physical barrier created by the herbaceous layer are the two mechanisms blocking the encroachment of Pinus sylvestris onto these Mediterranean mountain meadows, limiting the regeneration and potential expansion of the forest.
Nomenclature: Tutin et al. (1964–1980).