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Effects of reproduction methods and overstory species composition on understory light availability in longleaf pine–slash pine ecosystems

Sharma, Ajay, Jose, Shibu, Bohn, Kimberly K., Andreu, Michael G.
Forest ecology and management 2012 v.284 pp. 23-33
Pinus elliottii, Pinus palustris, basal area, coniferous forests, ecosystems, hydric soils, leaf area index, management systems, mixed stands, overstory, photoperiod, photosynthetically active radiation, reproduction, shelterwood systems, species diversity, understory, uneven-aged stands
The restoration of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) ecosystem types ranging from xeric uplands to hydric flatwoods is the goal of significant management efforts in the southeastern United States. Overstory species composition across ecosystem types varies from pure longleaf to mixed species stands, with slash pine (Pinus elliottii Engelm.) becoming more predominant on hydric soils, though species rich understories are prevalent throughout the landscape. Understory light regime has been determined to be one of many important environmental factors affecting regeneration and understory diversity; however it is not clear how different management regimes across ecosystem types affect light levels during restoration of degraded sites. In this study, we used Digital Hemispherical Photography (DHP) at multiple sites in northwest and north-central Florida to examine understory light availability in longleaf/slash pine forests treated with shelterwood and uneven-aged systems relative to uncut control plots. Basal area in these stands ranged from approximately 5.0m²ha⁻¹ to 40m²ha⁻¹ and species composition ranged from pure longleaf pine to pure slash pine. As expected, these management systems led to significant decreases in leaf area index (LAI), cover fraction, direct fraction of Absorbed Photosynthetically Active Radiation (fAPAR) and diffuse fAPAR, and increase in visible sky. These changes indicated increased light availability in shelterwood and uneven-aged stands compared to uncut control stands. Mean LAI ranged between 1.7 and 1.8 for control plots and from 0.3 to 0.9 for the various management systems. Shelterwood systems generally had the highest amount of understory light availability, while the greatest variability was observed in the group selection system. The overstory species composition also affected understory light availability. For a given basal area, longleaf pine showed greater understory light availability than slash pine. Light availability in mixed species stands differed significantly from pure longleaf pine stands only when the proportion of slash pine basal area was 70% or higher. Our observations suggest advantages of group selection management over the other management systems when understory restoration is a primary objective, but long-term monitoring of the understory will be needed for confirmation.