Characterization of Vascular Plant Species Composition and Relative Abundance in Southern Appalachian Mixed-Oak Forests
Hammond, Daniel N. Jr.
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Eight study sites were established in mid-elevation, south aspect, mixed-oak forests in the Ridge and Valley and Allegheny Mountain physiographic provinces of Southwestern Virginia and West Virginia to address questions concerning the variability in species composition, richness, and relative abundance of vascular plant species in those communities. All forest strata were sampled using a nested plot design. Variability in species richness and species composition was found to be high. Total species richness values ranged from 84 to 273, and Sorrenson's Coefficient of Similarity index values indicated that approximately 46, 38, and 51 percent of the species in the overstory, mid-story, and herb stratum were the same among sites, respectively. However, despite differences in composition and richness, K-S tests revealed significant differences in the distribution of ranked relative abundance only in the mid-story at two sites. Differences did occur in the relative abundance of twelve growth form categories. While tree seedlings and perennial herbs dominated, on average, woody vines and fern species represented substantial coverage on sites in the Allegheny Mountains. Correlations among forest strata were weak. The greatest amount of variation in species richness was attributiable to the standard deviation of a forest site quality index (FSQI), which was thought to represent the variation in microtopography across each site. The lack of correlation and high variability in plant species richness and composition, despite similarities in topographic characteristics, reinforce the inherent weaknesses involved with using the chronosequence approach to studying ecological responses in the Southern Appalachian mixed-oak region. Future remeasurement and long term monitoring of these study sites, following the implementation of silvicultural manipulations, will provide the information needed to make inference on the effects of forest management practices on Southern Appalachian mixed-oak forests.
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