Floristic indicators of ecosystem recovery after wind, logging, and fire in a Pinus woodland

Authors: Jonathan Kleinman*, University of Alabama, Jonathan Davis Goode, University of Alabama, Justin Hart, University of Alabama
Topics: Biogeography, Environmental Science, Natural Resources
Keywords: forest disturbance, functional traits, ground vegetation, longleaf pine
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Catastrophic wind disturbances impact forest ecosystems worldwide and will become more common in the southeastern USA. Though post-disturbance salvage logging and prescribed fire are commonly applied, little is known about the combined impacts of these management actions. This study assessed operational-scale prescribed fire effects on plant recovery in Pinus palustris woodlands impacted by an EF3 tornado and salvage logging. Surface fuels, woody plant regeneration, and ground flora assemblages were monitored before and after prescribed fire in sixty 0.04-ha nested plots distributed throughout mature, wind-disturbed, and salvage-logged sites. Salvage logging and prescribed fire had different effects on ecosystem recovery depending on which response variables were assessed. Salvaged sites hosted the greatest P. palustris sapling densities before and after prescribed fire, which indicated that recovery toward P. palustris canopy dominance was not negatively affected by salvage logging. However, salvage logging reduced the floristic diversity and compositional dissimilarity of ground flora assemblages. Although prescribed fire did not remedy the negative effects of salvage logging on ground flora recovery, prescribed fire did impose some consistent selective pressures on understory plants with common life-history strategies. Thus, to achieve comprehensive assessments of disturbance effects on ecosystem resilience, we recommend that a diversity of response variables are assessed. In particular, trait-based ground flora assessments can provide more sensitive indicators of disturbance than investigations limited to woody plants. Post-disturbance management decisions must consider tradeoffs between potential socioeconomic benefits of salvage logging and the ecological impacts it can have on a diversity of ecosystem components.

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