First Advisor

Keith S. Hadley

Date of Publication

Spring 6-20-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography






Coarse woody debris -- Oregon -- Pacific Coast, Understory plants -- Ecology -- Oregon -- Pacific Coast, Coastal forest ecology -- Pacific Northwest, Old growth forest ecology -- Pacific Northwest



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 91 pages)


This research examines the relationship between understory plant diversity and logs in a Pacific Northwest (PNW) Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)-western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) old-growth, coastal forest. These forests are renowned for their high forest productivity, frequent wind storms, and slow log decomposition rates that produce unmatched accumulations of coarse woody debris (CWD) yet few studies have examined the relationship between CWD and understory vegetation ecology. My research addressed this topic by comparing understory plant census data between paired fallen log and forest floor sites (n=20 pairs). My objectives were to: 1) determine the influence of substrate type on community composition and diversity, and 2) examine successional pathways and species assemblage patterns on CWD in various stages of decomposition. To meet these objectives I employed non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) ordinations and unsupervised cluster analyses to identify and compare community assemblages on both substrates. These methods revealed similar species diversity and evenness between log and forest floor sites with compositional differences within and between substrates corresponding to habitat availability for colonization and light and moisture gradients. My results also suggest understory successional pathways related to decay class and characterized by an initial abundance of bryophytes, forbs, and seedlings followed by woody shrubs. Understory communities developing on logs also experienced increasing diversity, evenness, and divergence from forest floor communities consistent with log decomposition. These results differ from findings for boreal forests that reveal increasing similarity between substrate communities with increasing decay class. Recommendations for future research include the employment of a more robust sample size and direct measurements of environmental variables. Additional comparator studies are also needed to confirm the effects of forest type and decomposition on the relationship between CWD and forest understory communities. This study demonstrates how fine-scale wind disturbance fosters biodiversity through the creation of CWD substrate. My results and future research are essential for the development of silvicultural models designed to promote biodiversity in PNW coastal forests.


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