Does post-fire abiotic habitat filtering create divergent plant communities in black spruce forests of eastern Canada?
We investigated the role of post-fire residual organic matter (ROM) thickness as a driver of community assembly in eastern Newfoundland. We hypothesized that if post-fire community assembly is predominantly controlled by ROM thickness (an abiotic habitat filter), then post-fire species composition and functional traits should correspond to the depth and distribution of ROM. However, if species interactions (biotic filter) are the primary constraints on community assembly, then post-fire species composition and their functional traits should be independent of the depth and distribution of ROM. We tested these predictions in three relatively mature plant communities, Kalmia angustifolia heath, black spruce (Picea mariana)-Kalmia shrub savannah and black spruce forest. Through pre-fire stand reconstruction, we found evidence that the three communities originated from black spruce forest. ROM thickness in heath was almost twice that of shrub savannah and six times more than forest, suggest