Effects of forest management intensity on herb layer plant diversity and composition of deciduous forest communities in Northern Germany

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Forest management is assumed to significantly affect herb layer species richness and community composition. Thus, the main objective of this study was to assess the effects of a reduction in forest management intensity on herb layer species assemblages in deciduous forests of Northern Germany. We selected forest stands which had been managed according to different management intensities (i.e., single-tree and group selection harvest) up to the year 1994, and which were subject to a low-impact management approach (i.e., single-tree harvest with minimal thinning interventions and the development of high growing stocks) since then. Unmanaged forest stands were used as a reference for the managed stands. Results from a previous study using vegetation data recorded in 1997 showed that species richness and compositional differences of the herb layer increased significantly with management intensity. The present study is based on a re-survey of these forest stands after 17 years. We therefore hypothesized that – as a result of the less intensive the forest management – the herb layer in both types of managed stands became more similar to that of the unmanaged stands over time. Specifically, we expected the changes in the stands with former group selection harvest to be stronger than those of the stands with former single-tree selection harvest. We found that herb layer species richness and cover decreased considerably over time, and that these changes were most pronounced in stands with the formerly more intensive management (i.e., former group selection harvest). Detailed analyses of species composition and species groups of the herb layer revealed that only a few differences remained in the managed stands when compared to the unmanaged stands. These differences are suggested to be related to previous soil disturbances in synergy with canopy openings. Our results suggest that a minimal intervention single-tree selection harvest system may have a low impact on the typical forest herb layer communities, and that a shift to low-intensity management may lead to a recovery of the plant communities over time even in formerly more intensively managed stands.

Translated title of the contributionEffekte der Waldbewirtschaftungsintensität auf die Diversität und Artenzusammensetzung der Krautschicht von Laubwaldgesellschaften in Norddeutschland
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-96
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 01.08.2018

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - biodiversity change, deciduous forests, forest management intensity, understorey vegetation, vegetation resurvey