Seed limitation and lack of downed wood, not invasive species, threaten conifer regeneration in an urban forest.
Urban forests provide valuable ecosystem services, but their long-term viability is often threatened by low tree recruitment due to seed and/or microsite limitation. Distinguishing between these two causes of low recruitment has important management implications, but has been little studied in urban environments. We tested for seed and microsite limitation in an urban forested park in Seattle, Washington, USA by adding conifer tree seeds and seedlings to experimental plots in which we manipulated microsite conditions by removing invasive ivy (Hedera spp.) and adding deadwood. We found that natural seed production was low, and adding seeds increased the number of observed seedlings. Furthermore, adding deadwood increased seedling survival, whereas removing Hedera did not have strong effects. Seed limitation is frequently addressed through management actions such as sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings, and our results suggest that such actions address a critical barrier to tree recruitment in urban forests. However, we also observed strong microsite limitation. At our study site, microsite limitation can be addressed primarily by adding deadwood and retaining coarse woody debris on site. Addressing microsite limitation may be a critical component of successful management efforts to improve tree recruitment in urban forests, and should not be overlooked. Furthermore, our study highlights the need for active monitoring and data analysis alongside management, since the most apparent threat (widespread cover of an invasive plant in this case) may not be the primary limit on suitable microsite conditions.