, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 699-706

The impact of beech thickets on biodiversity

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Abstract

Beech bark disease has dramatically altered hardwood forest structure and composition across northeastern North America. Extensive overstory mortality has resulted in prolific root-sprouting in some stands leading to the development of understory thickets of clonal small-stemmed beech. Beech thickets may impact local forest biodiversity, but this has not been adequately evaluated. We hypothesized significant differences in diversity of groundcover flora, craneflies, amphibians, and small mammals between plots with and without beech thickets. Paired plots were established in uneven-aged northern hardwood forest stands with no recent management history at two sites in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Groundcover plants, terrestrial craneflies, amphibians and small mammals were sampled on twenty paired plots. Discriminant analysis showed a significant difference between thicket and non-thicket (control) areas; significant variables in plot type separation were beech sapling abundance, leaf litter depth, and coarse woody debris volume. Groundcover plant cover, richness, and diversity were significantly lower in thicket compared to non-thicket plots, while beech sapling density explained 17–38 % in groundcover plant species diversity. There were no significant differences between the diversity of cranefly, amphibian and small mammal communities of each plot type. Beech thickets are important determinants of local biodiversity.