Plant Ecology

, Volume 183, Issue 1, pp 133–145 | Cite as

Effects of gap size and associated changes in light and soil moisture on the understorey vegetation of a Hungarian beech forest

  • László Gálhidy
  • Barbara Mihók
  • Andrea Hagyó
  • Kálmán Rajkai
  • Tibor  Standovár


In European beech forests windstorms often create canopy gaps and change the level of incident light, soil moisture and nutrient availability on the forest floor. Understanding the interrelations between gap size and environmental change, and the effects these have on regeneration processes is a prerequisite for developing techniques of nature-based forestry. The aims of this study were to investigate the effects of gap size on the resulting spatial distributions of key abiotic environmental variables (light and soil moisture) in gaps, and to study how light and soil moisture affect the abundance and distribution of herb layer species. To do this we used eight artificially created gaps – three large (diameter: 35–40 m) and five small (diameter: 10–15 m) – in a mesotrophic submontane beech forest. Data on species’ importance and substrate types were collected in systematically distributed 1 m×1 m quadrats before gap creation and on four occasions during the next two growing seasons. Hemispherical photographs were taken and analysed to estimate relative light intensity. Soil moisture was measured by frequency domain and capacitance probes. It was found that gap size had a profound effect on the environmental variables measured. While relative light intensity values in small gaps did not reach those in large gaps, soil moisture levels did reach similar maximum values in gap centres regardless of gap size. Richness, composition and total cover of herbaceous vegetation were different in small versus large gaps. Much of this difference was attributed to the presence of specific relative light intensities and also to the increased amount of available soil moisture in gaps. Species were differently affected by the combined effects of light and soil moisture, as well as by differences in available substrates. All this resulted in species-specific distribution patterns within gaps.


Beech Gap partitioning Herbs 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abe S., Masaki T. and Nakashizuka T. (1995). Factors influencing sapling composition in canopy gaps of a temperate deciduous forest. Vegetatio 120:21–32Google Scholar
  2. Beatty S.W. (1984). Influence of microtopography and canopy species on spatial patterns of forest understory plants. Ecology. 65(5):1406–1419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brokaw N. and Busing R.T. (2000). Niche versus chance and tree diversity in forest gaps. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 15:183–188PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brunner A. 2000. Hemispherical photography and image analysis with hemIMAGE and Adobe® Photoshop® 3.0, (manual)Google Scholar
  5. Busing R.T. and White P.S. (1997). Species diversity and small-scale disturbance in an old-growth temperate forest: a consideration of gap-partitioning concepts. Oikos 78:562–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Canham C.D. (1989). Different responses to gaps among shade tolerant tree species. Ecology 70:548–550CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Canham C.D., Denslow J.S., Platt W.J., Runkle J.R., Spies T.A. and White P.S. (1990). Light regimes beneath closed canopies and tree-fall gaps in temperate and tropical forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 20:620–631Google Scholar
  8. Carlson, R.E. and Foley, T.A. 1991. Radial Basis Interpolation Methods on Track Data, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, UCRL-JC-1074238Google Scholar
  9. Collins B.S. and Pickett S.T.A. (1987). Influence of canopy opening on the environment and herb-layer in a northern hardwoods forest. Vegetatio 70:3–10Google Scholar
  10. Collins B.S. and Pickett S.T.A. (1988). Demographic responses of herb layer species to experimental canopy gaps in a northern hardwoods forest. Journal of Ecology 76:437–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Denslow J.S. and Spies T. (1990). Canopy gaps in forest ecosystems: an introduction. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 20:619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dirksen C. (1999). Soil Physics Measurements. Catena Verlag GMBH, Reiskirchen, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  13. Gilliam F.S. and Turrill N.L.(1993). Herbaceous layer cover and biomass in a young versus a mature stand of a central Appalachian hardwood forest. Bulletin of Torrey Botanical Club 120(4):445–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goldblum D. (1997). The effect of treefall gaps on understory vegetation in New York State. Jornal of Vegetation Science 8:125–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Golden Software, Inc. 2002. Surfer 8. User’s GuideGoogle Scholar
  16. Gray A.N. and Spies T.A. (1996). Gap size, within gap position and canopy structure effects on conifer seedling establishment. Journal of Ecology 84:635–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gray A.N. and Spies T.A. (1997). Microsite controls on tree seedling establishment in conifer forest canopy gaps. Ecology 78 (8):2458–2473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hilhorst, M.A. 1998. Dielectric characterisation of soil. Doctoral Thesis. Wageningen Agric. Univ., pp. 69–71.Google Scholar
  19. Holeksa J. (2003). Relationship between field-layer vegetation and canopy openings in a carpathian subalpine spruce forest. Plant Ecology 168:57–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hughes J. W. and Fahey T.J. (1991). Colonization dynamics of herbs and shrubs in a disturbed northern hardwood forest. Journal of Ecology 79:605–616CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kwit C. and Platt, W.J. (2003). Disturbance history influences regeneration of non-pioneer understory trees. Ecology 84 (10):2575–2581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Łaska G. (2001). The disturbance and vegetation dynamics: a review and an alternative framework. Plant Ecology 157:77–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lawton O. and Putz F.E. (1988). Natural disturbance and gap-phase regeneration in a wind-exposed tropical cloud forest. Ecology 69(3):764–777CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Maguire D.A. and Formand R.T.T. (1983). Herb cover effects on tree seedling patterns in a mature hemlock-hardwood forest. Ecology 64(6):1367–1380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mihók B., Gálhidy L., Kelemen K., Standovár T. (2005). Study of Gap-phase Regeneration in a Managed Beech Forest: Relations between Tree Regeneration and Light, Substrate Features and Cover of Ground Vegetation. Acta Silv. Lign, Hung. 1:25–38Google Scholar
  26. Nakashizuka T. (1985). Diffused light conditions in canopy gaps in a beech (Fagus crenata Blume) forest. Oecologia 66:472–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Peterson C.J. and Campbell J.E. (1993). Microsite differences and temporal change in plant communities of treefall pits and mound in an old-growth forest. Bulletin of Torrey Botanical Club. 120(4):451–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Peltier A., Touzand M.-C., Armengaud, C. and Ponge, J.-F. (1997). Establishment of Fagus sylvatica and Fraxinus excelsior in an old-growth beech forest. Journal of Vegetation Science 8:13–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Platt W.J. and Strong D.R. (1989). Gaps in forest ecology. Ecology (70):535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Podani J. (2000). Introduction to the exploration of multivariate biological data. Leiden, Backhuys PublishersGoogle Scholar
  31. Podani J. 2001. SYN-TAX 2000 Computer Program for Data Analysis in Ecology and Systematics for WINDOWS 95, 98 and NT. User's Manual Scientia Publishing, Budapest.Google Scholar
  32. Poulson T.L. and Platt W.J. (1989). Gap light regimes influence canopy tree diversity. Ecology 70(3):553–555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ricard J.-P. and Messier Ch. (1996). Abundance, growth and allometry of red raspberry (Rubus idaeus, L.) along a natural light gradient in a northern hardwood forest. Forest Ecology and Management 81:153–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Runkle J.R. (1989). Synchrony of regeneration, gaps, and latitudinal differences in trespecies diversity. Ecology 70:546–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schaetzl R.J., Burns S.F., Johnson D.L. and Small T.W. (1989). Tree uprooting: Review of impacts on forest ecology. Vegetatio 79:165–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schumann M.E., White A.S. and Witham J.W. (2003). The effects of harvest-created gaps on plant species diversity, composition and abundance in a maine oak-pine forest. Forest Ecology and Management 176:543–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schmidt W., Weitermeier M., Holzapfel C. (1996). Vegetation dynamics in canopy gaps of a beech forest on limestone. The influence of the light gradient on species richness. Verhandlung der Gesellschaft für Ökologie:253–258Google Scholar
  38. Simon T. 2000. A magyarországi edényes flóra határozója. Harasztok – virágos növények. (In Hungarian) Nemzeti Tankönyvkiadó, BudapestGoogle Scholar
  39. Várallyay Gy. and Rajkai K. (1987). Soil moisture content and moisture potential measuring techniques in Hungarian soil surveys. Proceedings of International Conference on Measurement of Soil and Plant Water Status. 1:183–184Google Scholar
  40. Vitousek P.M.and Denslow J.S.(1986). Nitrogen and phosphorus availability in treefall gaps of a lowland tropical rainforest . Journal of Ecology 74:1167–1178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Uhl C., Clark K., Dezzeo N. and Maquirino P. (1988). Vegetation dynamics in Amazonian treefall gaps. Ecology 69(3):751–763CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Watt, A.S. (1925). On the ecology of British beechwoods with special reference to their regeneration. Part II (continued). Journal of Ecology 13:27–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • László Gálhidy
    • 1
  • Barbara Mihók
    • 2
  • Andrea Hagyó
    • 3
  • Kálmán Rajkai
    • 3
  • Tibor  Standovár
    • 2
  1. 1.Production Biology Research GroupHungarian Academy of Science-University of West HungarySopronHungary
  2. 2.Department of Plant Taxonomy & EcologyL. Eötvös UniversityBudapestHungary
  3. 3.Research Institute for Soil Sciences and Agricultural Chemistry of the Hungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary

Personalised recommendations