Longitudinal patterns of plant diversity in the North American boreal forest

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Spatial patterns of plant diversity in the North American boreal forest were examined according to three plant life forms (woody plants, herbaceous plants, and bryophytes) and two taxonomic levels (species and genus), using sixty 9-ha plots sampled in white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) and black spruce (Picea mariana (P. Mill.) B.S.P.) ecosystems along a transcontinental transect from the Pacific coast eastwards to the Atlantic coast. The patterns of inventory diversity (represented by alpha diversity), differentiation diversity (represented by the similarity index, habitat-heterogeneity index, similarity decay rate, and length of the first axis in detrended correspondence analysis), and pattern diversity (represented by the mosaic diversity index) were assessed along the transect in both ecosystem types. At the stand level, central North America had the highest alpha diversity in terms of the number of species or genera, and western North America had a higher alpha diversity than eastern North America. At the continental scale, herbaceous plants had the highest beta diversity in terms of floristic change from the eastern to western North America, bryophytes had the lowest beta diversity, and woody plants were in the middle, regardless of ecosystem type and taxonomic level. Central North America had the lowest mosaic diversity across the boreal transect of North America. The white spruce ecosystems had a higher alpha diversity than the black spruce ecosystems regardless of plant life form, taxonomic level and geographic location. The white spruce ecosystems tended to have more bryophytes, less woody plants, and higher species:genus ratio than the black spruce ecosystems. In general, the white spruce and black spruce ecosystems shared the same patterns in diversity changes at different spatial scales, plant life forms, and taxonomic levels across the transect studied. The existing patterns of plant diversity in the North American boreal forest area resulted from a combination of ecological processes and spatial configuration.

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