Dynamics, Diversity, and Resource Gradient Relationships in the Herbaceous Layer of an Old-Growth Appalachian Forest

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Plant Ecology


The ecological drivers of herbaceous layer composition and diversity in deciduous forests of eastern North America are imperfectly understood. We analyzed the herbaceous layer, across the growing season, in a central Appalachian old-growth forest to examine dynamics, diversity, and relationships to resource gradients. We found clear variation in herb species composition over the growing season. We identified intermingled resource gradients, including soil nutrients, light availability, and topography, that were related to herbaceous composition. We found that herb layer diversity was different among previously identified tree communities, but was not variable over the growing season. We identified a unimodal relationship between diversity and productivity in the herb flora that held throughout the growing season despite changing composition and levels of productivity. Diversity and distributions in the herbaceous community of our study site are linked to a complex of resource gradients.

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Electronic ISSN: 1573-5052; Print ISSN: 1385-0237


We would like to express our gratitude to the University of Kentucky, Department of Forestry, for supporting the initiation of this project. Particular thanks are owed to Robert Paratley, curator of the University of Kentucky Herbarium, who provided taxonomic expertise. We are grateful to Eastern Kentucky University for providing access to the site. In particular, we would like to thank Lilley Cornett Woods site manager Rob Watts, who is a true professional. He helped us out of several jams in the field and was always friendly and helpful. We also thank Rachel Barker, Julia Chapman, Amy Hruska Eryn Moore, Lesley Rigg, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous drafts of the manuscript.





Peer Reviewed