1 Acer mono is one of the earliest germinating species in hardwood forests of northern Japan. To evaluate the advantage of early germination for the seedling establishment, differences in the temporal pattern of leaf development between the seedlings and overstorey trees were investigated, together with the timing of dry mass gain and allocation, survival and mortality agents of seedlings. These traits were contrasted at four sites with different types of foliage phenology in the overstorey trees (FU-1 and FU-2, forest understorey in which overstorey trees unfolded and shed the leaves as a flush and succeedingly, respectively; SG, small gaps; and FE, forest edge). 2 Seasonal growth patterns of the seedlings were greatly affected by the differences in the coupling of leaf development between the seedlings and the overstorey trees. For early germinating cohorts of Acer mono, 79, 61, 50 and 53% of annual dry mass gain occurred within 2 months of germination, in FU-1, FU-2, SG and FE, respectively. After this point (canopy closure) mass increment decreased abruptly in both FU sites, but continued to increase in both SG and FE. Seedling mass, however, increased after September again in FU-2 but not in FU-1, mainly due to earlier leaf shedding of the canopy trees in FU-2. 3 After canopy closure, leaf mass ratio was greatest in FU-1 where light was most limited, but lowest in FE. In contrast, root mass ratio was greatest in FE but lowest in FU-1 where soil moisture was most abundant. These traits might lead to the optimization of growth by making all resources equally limiting even after canopy closure in forest understorey. 4 Higher seedling survival resulting from early germination was observed in all four sites, since predators and pathogens selectively attacked late germinating individuals. The advantage of early germination was greater in both FU-1 and FU-2 than in FE, mainly due to large differences in available light for early vs. late germinating individuals in both FU sites compared with the FE site. 5 These observations suggest that phenological traits of A. mono such as rapid germination in early spring and earlier deployment of leaves compared with overstorey trees has been selected to maximize annual mass gain and survival in understorey habitats of deciduous broad-leaved forests.
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