, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 337-343

Correlations of understory herb distribution patterns with microhabitats under different tree species in a mixed mesophytic forest

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This study examines the role of canopy trees in the formation and maintenance of different herb microhabitats in a mixed mesophytic forest stand. Herb abundance and reproductive success were recorded in 54 circular plots under seven species of canopy trees and in 15 circular control plots>2 m from any tree. Soil moisture, soil nutrient levels, litter depth, and light intensity were measured in a subset of these plots. Ordination of plots by both herb relative abundance and by reproductive success of common species indicated that herb assemblages under most canopy tree species were similar to those away from trees. However, herb assemblages under Fagus grandifolia trees differed moderately from the others while plots under Quercus alba trees supported significantly different herb assemblages. Analyses of variance revealed that several herb species occurred at significantly closer mean distance to the base of Q. alba or Fagus trees or at higher densities under these tree species. Soils around Q. alba trees had significantly higher concentrations of calcium and sulfate ions, and higher pH than plots under other tree species and control plots. This correlated closely with Q. alba stemflow which had higher concentrations of calcium and sulfate ions and lower concentrations of hydrogen ions than stemflow from other trees at this site. The slightly lower soil pH near the base of Fagus trees may have been related to the high volumes of stemflow produced by this species. Stepwise regression showed significant correlations between abundances of five common herb species and soil nutrient patterns. Maintenance of spatial heterogeneity in forest floor resources by the presence of different species of canopy trees may therefore be important in the maintenance of diversity in these understory herb communities.