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Abundance response of western European forest species along canopy openness and soil pH gradients

Van Couwenberghe, Rosalinde, Collet, Catherine, Lacombe, Eric, Gégout, Jean-Claude
Forest ecology and management 2011 v.262 no.8 pp. 1483-1490
Anemone nemorosa, Deschampsia flexuosa, Festuca, Hedera helix, Lamium galeobdolon, Lonicera periclymenum, Molinia caerulea, Oxalis acetosella, Pteridium aquilinum, Rubus idaeus, Rubus plicatus, Vaccinium myrtillus, biogeography, botanical composition, canopy, forest regeneration, forests, nutrient requirements, regression analysis, soil nutrients, soil pH, soil quality, soil resources, stand structure
In order to better understand the structure and composition of forest plant communities, we aimed to predict the abundance of understory herbaceous species locally at the stand level and according to different environments. For this, we seeked to model species distributions of abundance at a regional scale in relationship with the local stand structure (canopy openness) and regional soil resources (soil pH). Floristic inventories, performed in different light and soil conditions located in 1202 records of north eastern France, were used to analyze the combined effect of canopy openness and soil pH on the abundance of 12 common western European forest species: Anemone nemorosa, Deschampsia flexuosa, Festuca altissima, Hedera helix, Lamium galeobdolon, Lonicera periclymenum, Molinia caerulea, Oxalis acetosella, Pteridium aquilinum, Rubus fruticosus, Rubus idaeus, and Vaccinium myrtillus. Ordinal regression models relating species abundance responses to their environment were developed. For most species (eight out of 12), distribution was significantly affected by canopy openness and soil pH. Differences among low-abundance (i.e. cover <25%) and high-abundance (i.e. cover >25%) responses were noted for 11 species along the canopy openness gradient and four species along the pH gradient. The present study quantifies optimal light and soil nutrient requirements for high-abundance responses and quantifies light and soil nutrients tolerance conditions for low-abundance responses. The combination of both factors highlights the pre-eminence of pH conditions occurrence and canopy openness for species abundance. The models developed by this study may be used to define canopy openness thresholds in function of soil characteristics to control the development of species during forest regeneration. The species-specific reactions on local canopy openness along a regional soil gradient illustrate the need for a species-specific management approach.