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Successional Changes in Understory Plant Diversity and Species Composition Following Timber Harvesting on Vancouver Island

Authors: Emily Lambert*, University of Calgary, David Goldblum, University of Calgary, Lesley S Rigg, University of Calgary
Topics: Biogeography, Physical Geography, Canada
Keywords: forest, understory, biogeography, logging, ethnobotany, indigenous, species diversity
Session Type: Paper
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Successional changes in understory plant diversity and species composition following timber harvesting is a largely unexplored topic in the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia. Succession of tree species after large-scale disturbances is often studied, however understory plants are an important ecological component of the forest, with influences on other organisms, and ties to cultural practices of Indigenous communities. The old-growth forests of coastal British Columbia are undergoing extensive timber harvesting, creating a complex matrix of forest stands of varying ages. The natural disturbance regime of this area is tree-fall, and the large-scale and low frequency disturbance of clear cutting is leading to large, spatially uniform environments. The overall objective of the study is to identify the changes in understory vegetation following logging, particularly the changes to the herb and shrub community. Using a chronosequence approach (stand ages: 1 – 354 years old), we examine if species are restricted to certain successional stages, if invasive species are more prominent in certain stages, and the regeneration of culturally significant species to the local Huu-ay-aht First Nations are affected. We hypothesize that plant diversity patterns will follow the intermediate-disturbance hypothesis. The results of this study will help with forest management practices and selection of harvesting methods that will be most conducive to understory plant regeneration, understanding impacts on plants used for traditional practices, and the conservation of old-growth species. The understory vegetation is an indicator of forest health, therefore harvesting methods should consider the impacts on the understory community.

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