Rodríguez Calcerrada, Jesús and Nanos, Nikolaos and Rey, María del Carmen del and López de Heredia Larrea, Unai and Escribano Bombin, Rafael and Gil Sanchez, Luis
Small-scale variation of vegetation in a mixed forest understorey is partly controlled by the effect of overstory composition on litter accumulation.
"Journal of Forest Research", v. 16
We investigated how richness and composition of vascular plant species in the understory of a mixed hardwood forest stand varied with respect to the abundance and composition of the overstory. The stand is in central Spain and represents the southernmost range of distribution of several tree and herbaceous species in Europe. Understory species were identified in 46 quadrats (0.25 m2) where variables litter depth and light availability were measured. In addition, we estimated tree density, basal area, and percent basal area by tree species within 6-m-radius areas around each plot. Species richness and composition were studied using path analysis and scale-dependent geostatistical methods, respectively. We found that the relative abundance of certain trees species in the overstory was more important than total overstory abundance in explaining understory species richness. Richness decreased as soil litter depth increased, and soil litter increased as the relative proportion of Fagus sylvatica in the overstory increased, which accounted for a negative, indirect effect of Fagus sylvatica on richness. Regarding understory species composition, we found that some species distributed preferentially below certain tree species. For example, Melica uniflora was most frequent below Fagus sylvatica and Quercus petraea while the increasing proportion of Q. pyrenaica in the overstory favored the presence of Cruciata glabra, Arenaria montana, Prunus avium, Conopodium bourgaei, Holcus mollis, Stellaria media and Galium aparine in the understory. Overall, these results emphasize the importance of individual tree species in controlling the assemblage and richness of understory species in mixed stands. We conclude that soil litter accumulation is one way through which overstory composition shapes the understory community.