Effects of Clearcutting with Whole Tree Harvesting on Woody and Herbaceous Plant Diversity After 17-Years of Regrowth in a Southern Appalachian Forest
Wright, David Kenyon
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This study examines the effects of clearcut regeneration with whole-tree harvesting on plant diversity. Three approaches were used to study changes in species composition and structure: (1) forest level, (2) stand level, and (3) diversity indices. Within each approach the forest was stratified into three horizontal vegetative regions based upon height: herb (< 1 m), shrub (between 1 and 5 m), and tree (> 5 m). Between the pre-harvest and 17-year-old forest, the relative percent cover of 3 out of 45 herbaceous and 2 out of 34 woody species were found to be significantly different (df = 3; a = 0.10) in the herb stratum; the importance value (average of relative basal area and stem density) of 2 out of 25 woody species in the shrub stratum; and 1 out of 21 woody species in the tree stratum. Within stands, the three lower quality, 17-year-old stands (SI50 = 12.2, 15.2, and 18.3 m) most resembled their pre-harvest composition; however, increases in ericaceous species were observed in the herb and shrub strata potentially inhibit the future regeneration of tree species. The SI50 = 21.3 m stand incurred the greatest changes in composition potentially due to the lack of fire as a disturbance mechanism. The major mechanism that has caused the shifts in species composition and structure is the change in the microenvironment due to the removal of the overstory, which has shifted the competitive advantages from one species to another. In all cases, diversity indices were not found to be significantly different between the 17-year-old and pre-harvest forests. Diversity indices were therefore determined to have limited use if a manager wants to know specific compositions and/or abundance of species.
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