In forest communities, conspecific density/distance dependence (CDD) is an important factor regulating diversity. It remains unknown how and the extent to which gap creation alters the mode and strength of CDD via changes in the relative importance of pathogens and mycorrhizae. Seeds of two hardwoods (i.e., Acer mono associated with arbuscular mycorrhizae [AM] and Quercus serrata associated with ectomycorrhizae [EM]) were sown reciprocally at four distances from the boundary between Acer- and Quercus-dominated forests towards forest interior in each of forest understories (FUs) and gaps. The causes of seed and seedling mortality, seedling growth and colonization of mycorrhizal fungi were investigated. In Acer, seed and seedling mortality were highest in Acer forests and gradually decreased towards the interior of Quercus forests in FU, mainly due to severe attack of soil pathogens, invertebrates, and leaf diseases. The reverse was true in gaps, due to reduction of damping-off damage caused by distance-dependent colonization of AM. In Quercus, most seeds and seedlings were eaten by vertebrates in FUs. The seedling mortality caused by leaf diseases was not high, even beneath conspecific forests with higher colonization of EM in gaps, suggesting a positive EM influence. In both species, seedling mass was greatest in conspecific forests and gradually decreased towards the interior of heterospecific forests in gaps, due to higher colonization of mycorrhizae near conspecifics. In conclusion, light conditions strongly altered the mode of CDD via changes in relative influence of pathogens and mycorrhizae, suggesting that gap creation may regulate species diversity via changes in the mode of CDD.
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