Ryan W. McEwan, Ph.D.
The herbaceous layer of eastern North American deciduous forests is an important contributor to biodiversity in this region. One of the greatest threats to herbaceous plant diversity is the introduction of invasive species, which can suppress native species and alter local environmental conditions. Agrilus planipennis (emerald ash borer) is a non-native insect pest that has caused a mass death of ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) in North America since its introduction to the United States. The resultant changes in canopy structure may affect local conditions and thus have indirect impacts on herbaceous layer composition. Drew Woods State Nature Preserve is a 6-ha old-growth forest fragment in Darke County, Ohio that has recently experienced EAB-related ash mortality. Our goal was to understand how herbaceous layer diversity has been changing through time in response to this sitewide canopy disturbance. Annual surveys of herbaceous biodiversity were conducted across 32 1-m2 sampling plots from 2012 to 2017. Species richness, total cover, Shannon Diversity, and species evenness were calculated for each plot by year, and beta diversity (Bray-Curtis Dissimilarity) was used to assess community turnover through time. Repeated measures ANOVA was used to test for significant changes over this period, and regression analyses were used to understand relationships between diversity and environmental variables (canopy cover, soil moisture, and distance to forest edge). Species richness and herbaceous cover tended to be higher in more recent sampling years. There was a temporally consistent north-south gradient where diversity tended to be greater toward the southern edge of the stand. These results suggest that EAB-induced ash mortality is increasing light availability via canopy gap formation, which is a driving factor of herbaceous diversity. The full impact of EAB is not yet clear, but will likely extend beyond ash mortality and have important indirect effects on other parts of forest ecosystems.
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Buskey, Taylor Melissa, "Changes in Herbaceous Plant Diversity in an Old-Growth Ohio Forest Before and After Emerald Ash Borer Invasion" (2018). Honors Theses. 150.