The effects of windthrow on plant species richness in a Central European beech forest

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The effects of soil disturbance caused by the uprooting of a single or a few canopy trees on species richness and composition of vascular plant species and bryophytes were examined in a temperate beech forest (Fagus sylvatica) in northern Germany. We recorded the vegetation in 57 pairs of disturbed and adjacent undisturbed plots and established a chronosequence of mound ages to study the effect of time since microsite formation on plant species richness and composition. We found significant differences in plant species richness and composition between disturbed and adjacent undisturbed plots. Species richness of both vascular plants and bryophytes was higher in the disturbed than in the undisturbed plots, but these differences were more pronounced for bryophytes. We suggest that three main factors are responsible for this differential response. The availability of microsites on the forest floor that are suitable for the recruitment of bryophytes is lower than for vascular plants. Establishment of bryophytes in disturbed microsites is favoured by a greater abundance of propagules in the close vicinity and in the soil of the disturbed microsites, as well as by a greater variety of regeneration strategies in bryophytes than in vascular plants. Time since mound formation was a major factor determining plant species richness and composition. A significant decrease in the mean number of species was found from young mounds to intermediate and old mounds. However, differences were observed between vascular plants and bryophytes in the course of changes through time in species richness and composition. A large number of exclusive and infrequent vascular plant species was observed on young mounds, among them several disturbance specialists. We suggest that the establishment of many vascular plant species was infrequent and short-lived due to unfavourable light conditions and a low abundance of propagules. By contrast, the development of a litter layer was the main reason for the decreased mean number of bryophytes on old mounds. Our study supports the view that groups of species differing in important life history traits exhibit different responses to soil disturbance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)47-65
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 01.07.2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We would like to thank the Müritz National Park Administration for collaboration and for permission to conduct this study in the Serrahn beech forests. We thank Jürgen Dengler for his help with bryophyte identification and Walter Seidling for statistical advices. We are also grateful to Thilo Heinken, Tim Baker and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Research Focus: ‘‘Future-Oriented Silviculture’’, contract no. 0339756).

    Research areas

  • Biology - bryophytes, Fagus sylvatica, pits and mounds, small-scale disturbance, tree uprooting, cascular plant species
  • Chemistry