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Environmental drivers of the composition and diversity of the herb layer in mixed temperate forests in Hungary

Abstract

Herbaceous understory vegetation is an important part of temperate forested ecosystems, the diversity and composition of which are strongly dependent on the conditions of the forest stand and the landscape. The aim of this study was to find the most important environmental drivers influencing understory herb layer species composition (explored with multivariate analysis), and richness and cover (analysed by linear modelling) in managed mixed forests in West Hungary. Our detailed inventory showed that the most important factors increasing the diversity and cover of the understory are light, tree species richness, and landscape diversity. Composition is also mainly influenced by light conditions and tree species richness, with minor effects of tree species composition, soil texture, and moss cover. As the strongest influencing factors are closely linked to stand structure and tree species composition, they can either directly or indirectly be altered by forest management. In the studied region, heterogeneous light conditions and canopy structure, the maintenance of tree species richness and forest continuity are key elements for the conservation of forest herbs. Forestry that maintains continuous forest cover and the tree selection management system can better provide these conditions than the presently widely used shelterwood management system.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Abbreviations

LAI:

Leaf area index

DBH:

Diameter at breast height

RDA:

Redundancy analysis

PCA:

Principal component analysis

GLM:

General linear modelling

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Acknowledgments

We thank László Bodonczi, Zsuzsa Mag, István Mazál, Ákos Molnár, Péter Szűcs and Balázs Németh for their help in the field survey, and Anna Sáfár for careful language editing. The project was funded by the Hungarian Science Foundation (OTKA 79158), Őrség National Park Directorate and the TÁMOP-4.2.2.D-15/1/KONV-2015-0023 project of the European Union and European Social Found. Péter Ódor was supported by the Bolyai János Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

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Communicated by Thomas A. Nagel.

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Márialigeti, S., Tinya, F., Bidló, A. et al. Environmental drivers of the composition and diversity of the herb layer in mixed temperate forests in Hungary. Plant Ecol 217, 549–563 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-016-0599-4

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Keywords

  • Understory
  • Vascular plants
  • Stand structure
  • Microclimate
  • Soil conditions
  • Light