J Plant Ecol ›› 2016, Vol. 9 ›› Issue (4): 402-409.DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rtv071

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Ecological succession following forest decline in a xeric oak forest of south-central United States

Devin P. Bendixsen1,2,*, Stephen W. Hallgren1 and Jesse A. Burton1,3   

  1. 1 Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Oklahoma State University, 008 Ag Hall, Stillwater, OK 74074, USA; 2 Present address: Department of Biomolecular Sciences, Boise State University, 1357 S. Brady St., Boise, ID 83725, USA; 3 Present address: National Park Service, 2680 Natchez Trace Pkwy, Tupelo, MS 38804, USA
  • Received:2015-06-03 Accepted:2015-10-31 Published:2016-07-19
  • Contact: Bendixsen, Devin

Abstract: Aims The loss of canopy trees associated with forest decline can greatly influence the species composition and structure of a forest and have major impacts on the ecosystem. We studied the changes in forest composition and structure 1 and 5 years following nearly total canopy mortality on several hundreds of hectares of xeric oak forests in south-central United States. Because the forests were within an ecotonal vegetation type composed of a mosaic of forest, savanna and grassland, we sought to learn whether forest decline areas would recover to forest or change to more open savanna and grassland conditions in the landscape pattern of vegetation. Because low intensity fire shaped the vegetation type, we sought to learn whether fire would keep the decline areas open.
Methods The study was conducted in a xeric oak forest in east-central Oklahoma, USA. Randomly located vegetation and regeneration surveys were conducted in decline and non-decline stands 1 and 5 years following nearly total canopy mortality. Diameter at breast height (DBH), regeneration and sprout origin were recorded for all woody species.
Important findings The major canopy species post oak (Quercus stellata Wangenh.), blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica Muenchh.) and black hickory (Carya texana Buckl.) suffered 85–92% mortality; however, minor canopy components experienced limited mortality. Mortality affected all size classes of canopy trees except those below 5cm breast height diameter. There was abundant regeneration of all species and fire seemed to maintain a high level of sprouting. Decline appeared to decrease the relative importance of stump sprouting and increase other types including root sprouts. Decline areas had abundant true seedlings, with stem origin from a root with the same diameter as the stem, which is very unusual for xeric oak forests. Regeneration height in decline areas was twice that of non-decline forests. Our findings suggest that forest decline may lead to: (i) reduced oak dominance and species change in the canopy, (ii) change in reproduction type to increase success of true seedlings and maintain genetic diversity of oaks.

Key words: oak decline, prescribed fire, seedling, stump sprouts, drought

摘要:
Aims The loss of canopy trees associated with forest decline can greatly influence the species composition and structure of a forest and have major impacts on the ecosystem. We studied the changes in forest composition and structure 1 and 5 years following nearly total canopy mortality on several hundreds of hectares of xeric oak forests in south-central United States. Because the forests were within an ecotonal vegetation type composed of a mosaic of forest, savanna and grassland, we sought to learn whether forest decline areas would recover to forest or change to more open savanna and grassland conditions in the landscape pattern of vegetation. Because low intensity fire shaped the vegetation type, we sought to learn whether fire would keep the decline areas open.
Methods The study was conducted in a xeric oak forest in east-central Oklahoma, USA. Randomly located vegetation and regeneration surveys were conducted in decline and non-decline stands 1 and 5 years following nearly total canopy mortality. Diameter at breast height (DBH), regeneration and sprout origin were recorded for all woody species.
Important findings The major canopy species post oak (Quercus stellata Wangenh.), blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica Muenchh.) and black hickory (Carya texana Buckl.) suffered 85–92% mortality; however, minor canopy components experienced limited mortality. Mortality affected all size classes of canopy trees except those below 5cm breast height diameter. There was abundant regeneration of all species and fire seemed to maintain a high level of sprouting. Decline appeared to decrease the relative importance of stump sprouting and increase other types including root sprouts. Decline areas had abundant true seedlings, with stem origin from a root with the same diameter as the stem, which is very unusual for xeric oak forests. Regeneration height in decline areas was twice that of non-decline forests. Our findings suggest that forest decline may lead to: (i) reduced oak dominance and species change in the canopy, (ii) change in reproduction type to increase success of true seedlings and maintain genetic diversity of oaks.