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The influence of landform on the understory plant community in a temperate Beech forest in northern Iran

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Understanding the factors that determine the distribution of understory plants is important because they represent the largest component of temperate forest plant diversity. We examined the influence of topographic gradients on the distribution of understory plants in Mazandaran Province, northern Iran. Our objective was to determine how the topography of the landscape influenced the composition of understory plant species (cover, diversity, richness, and evenness). We investigated two catena landscape shapes (Λ and V), several different slope positions and their subsequent effects on the composition of the understory herb layer. We established 120 plots that spanned six catenas that varied in shape and slope position (i.e, summit, shoulder, back slope, foot slope and toe slope). We measured the composition of understory plant species populations and calculated diversity using several indices. We found that plant distribution and abundance was strongly related to both catena shape and slope position. Statistical analyses revealed that plant species diversity and richness varied significantly with slope position of the catena, but only diversity varied with catena shape. In addition, significant interactions were found for both diversity and richness. Neither shape nor slope position had a significant effect on evenness alone. We concluded that catena shape and slope position both influence plant distribution, abundance, and biodiversity of the herb layer in these forests by affecting both understory light intensity and soil factors. Our results suggest that the herb layer on Λ-shaped catenas and V-shaped landforms were mostly controlled by topography and soil features, respectively.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge Hamed Asadi, Reza Fazlollahi Mohammadi and Masoud Mahdavikia for help with fieldwork. The study was financially supported by Tarbiat Modares University, Iran.

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Correspondence to Seyed Gholamali Jalali.

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Fazlollahi Mohammadi, M., Jalali, S.G., Kooch, Y. et al. The influence of landform on the understory plant community in a temperate Beech forest in northern Iran. Ecol Res 30, 385–394 (2015).

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  • Landform
  • Slope position
  • Herbal layer
  • Beech
  • Hyrcanian forest