Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain the structure and position of alpine treelines. The spatial complexity of the ecotone, ranging from sharp boundaries to networks of tree patches within a heath matrix, may explain why no consensus has been reached. In this paper, we discuss factors from abiotic disturbances to herbivory that may help understand the spatial structure of the alpine treeline ecotone in Fennoscandia. The ecotone is dominated by mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. tortuosa), and may show a wide range of spatial structures. We discuss the influence of topography, seed limitations, seedling establishment, growth limitations, abiotic disturbances and herbivory as structuring factors. All of these factors may operate, but their relative importance in space and time is unknown. There is a basic difference between factors that prevent the establishment of trees, and thus act on early life history stages, and factors that thin out a previously dense forest, and thus act on adult trees. Mortality caused directly or indirectly by geometrid moths may belong to the latter category. We suggest that seedling and sapling mortality is more important than seed limitation for the establishment of new individuals in the treeline ecotone. Important mortality factors may be abiotic disturbances, competition (or allelopathy) from field layer plants and herbivory. The relative role of these factors needs to be examined further.
2008. Vol. 1, 77-87 p.