Ecological Research

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1089–1101 | Cite as

High-elevation ground-layer plant community composition across environmental gradients in spruce-fir forests

  • Sarah E. Stehn
  • Christopher R. WebsterEmail author
  • Michael A. Jenkins
  • Shibu Jose
Original Article


We examined the influence of vegetation structure and soil chemistry on post-adelgid, ground-layer plant communities in high-elevation forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Specifically, we hypothesized that post-disturbance community composition and diversity would vary along a gradient of soil acidity and other soil characteristics influenced by acid deposition. Ground-layer vegetation and soils were sampled on 60 randomly located nested vegetation plots in the spruce-fir (Picea abies) zone of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN and NC, USA. To capture a range of deposition levels, plot placement was stratified based on modeled acid deposition classes. Ordination and multiple regression results showed that ground-layer composition and diversity were negatively associated with acidity of the A horizon and the presence of ericaceous shrubs (i.e., Rhododendron spp.). A strong correspondence between soil acidity and ericaceous shrub cover was also observed, suggesting that soil acidity may be, in conjunction with overstory disturbance resulting from chronic acid deposition and adelgid induced mortality, an important driver of ericaceous shrub thicket expansion. Slow-decaying, acidic ericaceous litter may also induce a positive feedback resulting in enhanced acidification.


Abies fraseri Acid deposition Ericaceous Herbaceous layer Non-metric multidimensional scaling ordination Picea rubens Rhododendron maximum 



We thank Thomas McDonough, Katri Morley, Brandon Potter, Nicole Samu, Jenny Stanley, Meg Walker-Milani, Bettina Uhlig, and Philip White for assistance with field work, and Jennifer Boettger, Mike Foster, Maria Parisot, Bliss Sengbusch, and Aaron Wuori for laboratory assistance. Becky Keller assisted with the deployment of the stratification protocol and initial plot establishment. Invaluable logistical support was provided by Great Smoky Mountains National Park Resource Management staff. The National Park Service Air Resource Division and the Michigan Technological University Ecosystem Science Center provided financial support for this project.


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah E. Stehn
    • 1
  • Christopher R. Webster
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael A. Jenkins
    • 2
  • Shibu Jose
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Forest Resources and Environmental ScienceMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forestry and Natural ResourcesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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