Effects of hydrology-altering site preparation and fertilization/release on plant diversity and productivity in pine plantations in the coastal plain of Virginia
Hauser, James W.
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Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is declining on a global scale at unprecedented rates. These declines are largely the result of human activities and resource use. Intensive forestry is often cited as a contributing factor in biodiversity declines. Because forestry practices are being placed under increased scrutiny with respect to biodiversity impacts, the objective of this project was to determine the effects of specific silvicultural practices on plant diversity in pine plantations on wet flats in Virginia. The study area consisted of three sites in the Coastal Plain. The sites were originally established in 1969 to study the effects of various treatments on loblolly pine growth. The three treatments applied were chop and burn, bedding, and ditching. Fertilization subplots of P, N and P, N, P, and lime, and a control were added to the treatment areas in 1978. This study was conducted in 1991 when stands were 23 years old, nearing rotation age. Bedding exerted the greatest effect on plant diversity. Diversity was lower on the bedded treatment, although total biomass was higher. Bedding appears to increase pine growth by providing seedlings with more available soil volume and by reducing the vegetative regeneration of hardwoods and shrubs, thereby decreasing site diversity. Ditching likewise increased pine growth by lowering water table levels, but ditching had little effect on plant diversity. Fertilization exhibited only minor effects on diversity, and those effects that were observed did not reveal any definitive trends. Of the treatments applied, liming appeared to increase pine growth most, possibly due to increased calcium availability. Water table level was highly correlated to mid story diversity, though it was less correlated to other canopy layers. In addition, correlation analyses indicated a significant degree of interaction between canopy layers. It appears that diversity, particularly in the lower canopy layers, is affected directly by treatments and indirectly by shifts in overstory characteristics. Intensive forest management involving hydrology-altering site preparation and fertilization impacted plant diversity within these wet flat plantations. Whether such changes affect wildlife habitat or ecosystem functioning requires further study.
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