Understory species interactions in mature boreal mixedwood forests

Chávez, Virginia; Macdonald, S. Ellen
October 2010
Botany;Oct2010, Vol. 88 Issue 10, p912
Academic Journal
We explored interactions among plant growth forms in the understory of mature boreal mixedwood forests in western Canada by investigating the competitive influence of erect shrubs on herbs (forbs and grasses). We established 10 pairs of plots; all erect shrubs were removed in one plot of each pair (removals) and left intact in the other plot (controls). Two years later, we harvested all aboveground biomass of the herbaceous layer (herb biomass: this included graminoids, forbs, trailing shrubs, and species with a woody base but not woody stems) from the 20 plots. We tested for significant differences in understory species biomass and composition between control and removal plots and examined the influence of 25 environmental factors on species composition of the herbaceous layer. Competition intensity was measured by the natural logarithm of response ratio (ln RR) index based on herb biomass. After erect shrub removal, there was a significant increase in herb biomass, mostly due to an increase of the most common species (e.g., Cornus canadensis Linnaeus, Linnaea borealis Linnaeus). The values of competition intensity (ln RR) varied among herb species but were, overall, positive, indicating a release from competition following shrub removal. Composition of the herbaceous layer was significantly different between removal and control plots and was also significantly related to seven environmental factors, which explained 40% of the variation in composition. Our study suggests that there is asymmetric competition for light between erect shrub and herb species in boreal ecosystems.


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