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Ecological Applications

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Forest management, Plant diversity, Understory vegetation -- Effects of logging on


Forest management can significantly affect both the diversity and spatial patterning of understory vegetation. However, few studies have considered both diversity and spatial patterning at a stand scale. Our objective was to evaluate the effects of forest management on understory plant communities in northern hardwood forests and assess the processes governing differences in species composition, diversity, and spatial patterns. We sampled understory vegetation (all speciestall) and percentage of light transmission levels in three forest types in 12 mesic northern hardwood stands in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, USA: old-growth, undisturbed forests; even-aged forests resulting from clearcut logging (65–85 yr old); and uneven-aged forests with recent selective logging.

Estimated understory species richness per stand, mean species richness per quadrat, and mean percent cover per quadrat were lower in old-growth forest than in even-aged, second-growth forests and lower in even-aged than in uneven-aged, second-growth forests. Differences in species composition among the three forest types were related to available light and to coarse woody debris; however, differences between the cover of most plant groups were not significant. The mean patch size of species diversity and cover is highly variable and could not be related to forest stand type. However, understory communities in old-growth forests have significantly smaller community patch sizes and larger compositional heterogeneity. Community patch size is correlated with both coarse woody debris and light heterogeneity. Each forest stand type produces a characteristic combination of understory composition, diversity, and spatial patterning of communities. Although harvesting has negligible effects on understory alpha diversity in these mesic hardwood forests, spatial structure is slower to recover and has not recovered in the even- and uneven-aged northern hardwood forests studied. If management objectives include preserving or restoring the ecological character of the forest, harvesting may need to be altered or delayed predicated on the character of the understory.


Copyright 2002 by the Ecological Society of America

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