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Ecol Appl. 2012 Mar;22(2):442-58.

Do natural disturbances or the forestry practices that follow them convert forests to early-successional communities?

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Mississippi, P.O. Box 1848, University, Mississippi 38677, USA. jbrewer@olemiss.edu

Abstract

Stand-replacing natural disturbances in mature forests are traditionally seen as events that cause forests to revert to early stages of succession and maintain species diversity. In some cases, however, such transitions could be an artifact of salvage logging and may increase biotic homogenization. We present initial (two-year) results of a study of the effects of tornado damage and the combined effects of tornado damage and salvage logging on environmental conditions and ground cover plant communities in mixed oak-pine forests in north central Mississippi. Plots were established in salvage-logged areas, adjacent to plots established before the storm in unlogged areas, spanning a gradient of storm damage intensity. Vegetation change directly attributable to tornado damage was driven primarily by a reduction in canopy cover but was not consistent with a transition to an early stage of succession. Although we observed post-storm increases of several disturbance indicators (ruderals), we also observed significant increases in the abundance of a few species indicative of upland forests. Increases in flowering were just as likely to occur in species indicative of forests as in species indicative of open woodlands. Few species declined as a result of the tornado, resulting in a net increase in species richness. Ruderals were very abundant in salvage-logged areas, which contained significantly higher amounts of bare ground and greater variance in soil penetrability than did damaged areas that were not logged. In contrast to unlogged areas severely damaged by the tornado, most upland forest indicators were not abundant in logged areas. Several of the forest and open-woodland indicators that showed increased flowering in damaged areas were absent or sparse in logged areas. Species richness was lower in salvage-logged areas than in adjacent damaged areas but similar to that in undamaged areas. These results suggest that salvage logging prevented positive responses of several forest and open-woodland species to tornado damage. Anthropogenic disturbances such as salvage logging appear to differ fundamentally from stand-level canopy-reducing disturbances in their effects on ground cover vegetation in the forests studied here and are perhaps more appropriately viewed as contributing to biotic homogenization than as events that maintain diversity.

PMID:
22611846
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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