Effects of establishment practices on plant biodiversity in planted pine forests

Investigators at North Carolina State University have published a paper titled “Long-term effects of establishment practices on plant communities across
successive rotations in a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) plantation” [Forest Ecology and Management 260 (2010) 1548–1556]. The authors are S.B. Jeffries, T.R. Wentworth, and H.L. Allen. The abstract follows.

“Implementation of repeated, high-intensity short rotations in forest plantations raises concerns about the effects of such practices on herbaceous layer biodiversity and overall sustainability. To investigate these concerns, we conducted a comparative study of second and third rotation plant communities in a loblolly pine plantation in the Piedmont of North Carolina. The second rotation stand was established in 1960 using conventional practices and was harvested in 1981, leaving two plots in each of three blocks as “historical” plots representing the second rotation.  The third rotation was planted in 1982, and a 2×2 factorial experiment was established within an area that had been complete-tree harvested, using two site preparation (drum-chop versus shear, pile, and disk) and two cultural (vegetation control versus no vegetation control) treatments in each of three blocks. Presence/absence data for vascular plant taxa were collected in the second rotation historical plots at year 22 and also in the third rotation treatment plots at year 18 and analyzed using non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) ordination, indicator species analysis, analysis of species richness, and computation of species turnover. Results indicated overall similarities in the herbaceous layer from year 22 in the second rotation to year 18 in the third rotation, while revealing some key differences in species composition, including persistence of disturbance-responsive species associated with the vegetation control treatment in the third rotation plots. The addition of these species largely accounted for an increase in species richness from the second to the third rotation. Species composition in low intensity third rotation plots (chop, no vegetation control) most closely resembled that of the second rotation plots of similar age. In addition, differences in species composition due to soil and topographic differences within the study persisted through both rotations, while compositional effects of treatments implemented at the beginning of the third rotation diminished with time. We conclude that more intensive silvicultural practices, such as site preparation and vegetation control, reduce initial competition from woody species and thus permit the persistence of early successional species, increasing overall diversity. From the larger perspective of the entire study, the second and third rotation stands
converged to similar species composition after approximately two decades post-planting despite early treatment-related differences in the third rotation. It remains to be seen whether additional harvests, rotations, and intensive practices will continue to support a functioning understory plant community in these short rotation plantation forests.” 

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