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Sprouting capacity of Persea borbonia and maritime forest community response to simulated laurel wilt disease

Chupp, Adam D., Battaglia, Loretta L.
Plant ecology 2017 v.218 no.4 pp. 447-457
Ilex vomitoria, Persea borbonia, basal area, coastal plains, community structure, girdling, habitats, herbaceous plants, insect pests, mortality, pathogens, plant communities, seedlings, sprouting, stems, tree and stand measurements, trees, understory, vascular wilt, Mississippi
There are numerous examples of how exotic insect pests and pathogens have altered the dominance of native tree species. Changes to the structure of associated communities will depend on whether the affected species survives and if so, the degree to which it is diminished. In the southeastern USA, Persea borbonia, a common tree found in many coastal plain habitats, is the primary host of laurel wilt disease (LWD); infection rates and main-stem mortality are catastrophically high (>90%) in invaded populations. We simulated the effects of LWD prior to its arrival in coastal Mississippi by girdling and then removing the main stems of P. borbonia trees. Over a 2-year period, we monitored P. borbonia persistence via basal resprouts, understory light availability, and community structure. Removal of P. borbonia main stems resulted in a 50% increase in light transmission (measured at 1 m above ground level). All treated individuals produced basal resprouts, the size and number of which were positively related to initial tree girth. Post-treatment increases in basal area were greatest for the sub-canopy species, Ilex vomitoria, and were significantly higher in treatment versus control plots. Woody seedlings and herbaceous plants showed no significant trends in composition and abundance over time or between control and treatment plots. Our results suggest that removal of P. borbonia and subsequent resprouting causes shifts in P. borbonia size class frequencies and sub-canopy species dominance but has negligible impacts on understory plant community dynamics.