Plant Ecology

, 212:1451

First online:

Aspen (Populus tremuloides) stands and their contribution to plant diversity in a semiarid coniferous landscape

  • Tim J. KuhnAffiliated withUSDI Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Field Office
  • , Hugh D. SaffordAffiliated withUSDA Forest ServiceDepartment of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California at Davis Email author 
  • , Bobette E. JonesAffiliated withUSDA Forest Service, Lassen National Forest
  • , Ken W. TateAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Sciences, University of California at Davis

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We conducted a field study to determine the relative contributions of aspen (Populus tremuloides), meadow, and conifer communities to local and landscape-level plant species diversity in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range, northeastern California, USA. We surveyed plant assemblages at 30 sites that included adjacent aspen, conifer, and meadow communities across a 10,000-km2 region. We statistically investigated patterns in local and landscape-scale plant diversity within and among the three vegetation types. Summing across sites, aspen stands supported more plant species overall and more unique plant species than either meadow or conifer communities. Local richness and diversity did not differ between aspen and meadow plots; conifer forest plots were significantly lower in both measures. Heterogeneity in species composition was higher for aspen forest than for meadows or conifer forest, both within sites and between sites. Plant communities in aspen stands shared less than 25% of their species with adjacent vegetation in conifer and meadow plots. Within aspen forest, we found a negative relationship between total canopy cover and plant diversity. Our results strongly support the idea that plant communities of aspen stands are compositionally distinct from adjacent meadows and conifer forest, and that aspen forests are a major contributor to plant species diversity in the study region. Current patterns of aspen stand succession to conifer forest on many sites in the semiarid western US are likely to reduce local and landscape-level plant species diversity, and may also have negative effects on other ecosystem functions and services provided by aspen forest.


Species diversity Species richness Conifer Montane vegetation Sierra Nevada Keystone species California