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Understory Structure and Vascular Plant Diversity in Naturally Regenerated Deciduous Forests and Spruce Plantations on Similar Clear-Cuts: Implications for Forest Regeneration Strategy Selection

Fang, ZhiQiang, Bao, WeiKai, Yan, XiaoLi, Liu, Xin
Forests 2014 v.5 no.4 pp. 715-743
Picea, canopy, clearcutting, conifers, deciduous forests, ferns and fern allies, forest land, natural regeneration, old-growth forests, plantations, reforestation, seedlings, shrubs, species diversity, trees, understory, vascular plants, China
The active effect of natural regeneration on understory vegetation and diversity on clear-cut forestlands, in contrast to conifer reforestation, is still controversial. Here we investigated differences in understory vegetation by comparing naturally regenerated deciduous forests (NR) and reforested spruce plantations (SP) aged 20–40 years on 12 similar clear-cuts of subalpine old-growth spruce-fir forests from the eastern Tibetan Plateau. We found that 283 of the 334 vascular plant species recorded were present in NR plots, while only 264 species occurred in SP plots. This was consistent with richer species, higher cover, and stem (or shoot) density of tree seedlings, shrubs, and ferns in the NR plots than in the SP plots. Moreover, understory plant diversity was limited under dense canopy cover, which occurred more frequently in the SP plots. Our findings implied that natural deciduous tree regeneration could better preserve understory vegetation and biodiversity than spruce reforestation after clear-cutting. This result further informed practices to reduce tree canopy cover for spruce plantations or to integrate natural regeneration and reforestation for clear-cuts in order to promote understory vegetation and species diversity conservation.