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On the formation of dense understory layers in forests worldwide: consequences and implications for forest dynamics, biodiversity, and succession

Royo, A.A., Carson, W.P.
Canadian journal of forest research = 2006 v.36 no.6 pp. 1345
forests, understory, density, forest regeneration, forest trees, species diversity, botanical composition, allelopathy, wildfires, forest fires, ecological competition, simulation models, herbaceous plants, shrubs, overstory, forest succession, anthropogenic activities, light intensity, light
The mechanistic basis underpinning forest succession is the gap-phase paradigm in which overstory disturbance interacts with seedling and sapling shade tolerance to determine successional trajectories. The theory, and ensuing simulation models, typically assume that understory plants have little impact on the advance regeneration layer's composition. We challenge that assumption by reviewing over 125 papers on 38 species worldwide that form dense and persistent understory canopies. Once established, this layer strongly diminishes tree regeneration, thus altering the rate and direction of forest succession. We term these dense strata recalcitrant understory layers. Over half of the cases reviewed were linked to increases in canopy disturbance and either altered herbivory or fire regimes. Nearly 75% of the studies declared that competition and allelopathy were the likely interference mechanisms decreasing tree regeneration, yet only 25% of the studies used manipulative field experiments to test these putative mechanisms. We present a conceptual model that links the factors predisposing the formation of recalcitrant understory layers with their interference mechanisms and subsequent impacts on succession. We propose that their presence constricts floristic diversity and argue for their explicit inclusion in forest dynamics theory and models. Finally, we offer management suggestions to limit their establishment and mitigate their impacts.