New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2007) 31(1): 13- 21

Site conditions affect seedling distribution below and outside the crown of kauri trees (Agathis australis)

Research Article
Eric Verkaik 1,*
Rhys O. Gardner 2
Wim G. Braakhekke 1
  1. Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
  2. Auckland War Memorial Museum, Private Bag 92 018, Auckland, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

It has been suggested that plants can change soil characteristics via their litter to favour their own species. The New Zealand kauri tree (Agathis australis) presents an interesting case for studying such a positive feedback between plant and soil because it has a huge impact upon the soil. We hypothesised that, under mature kauri trees, compared with sites outside the projection of the crown, seedlings of angiosperm trees are relatively rare, while kauri seedlings are relatively common, due to the poor soil conditions and the higher light intensity. We counted seedlings under and outside the crowns of kauri trees and correlated the presence of these seedlings to measured site conditions. The results confirm the hypotheses and indicate that the establishment of kauri seedlings is favoured by the open canopy and high light intensities below kauri. The low nutrient availability under kauri appears to be unfavourable for the survival of angiosperm seedlings but not for the survival of kauri seedlings. Since the lower nitrogen availability under kauri is due to sequestration of nitrogen in the organic layer under kauri, a positive feedback between kauri and the soil is likely.