Species richness and resilience of forest communities: combined effects of short-term disturbance and long-term pollution
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Recovery of the species richness of plant communities after experimental disturbances of various severities were studied in spruce forests polluted by atmospheric entry of SO2 and heavy metals from a copper smelter. In the three toxic load zones (impact, buffer, and background), 60 experimental “pit-and-mound” complexes (sized 1 m × 2 m, 20 complexes in each zone) were created. Colonization of disturbed areas by vascular plants was observed during a 6-year period after the disturbance. The results showed that the recovery processes were affected by disturbance severity and that the recovery differed significantly among the communities. In all of the zones, species richness increased rapidly after mild disturbance. In degraded communities, levelling of differences in the rate of colonization after mild and severe disturbances was observed. The highest colonization rate was found in the communities of background zone, while the lowest was found in the heavily degraded communities of impact zone. The disturbances significantly increased the species diversity of communities in all zones and caused a certain reversion of degraded communities to previous stage of anthropogenic succession. Mild disturbance promoted the greatest increase in the diversity indices. The study results indicate that recovery rate of species richness of plant communities is determined by the duration of negative effect of disturbances. Recovery also depends significantly on the magnitude and endurance of positive effect of disturbances. The studied communities differed significantly in these parameters. The study results also suggest that short-term disturbances can significantly modify the process of transformation of plant communities by atmospheric pollution. On the other hand, long-term pollution can considerably modify the response of forest communities to disturbances. The results also conclude that the resilience of communities does not exclusively depend on their species richness.