Forest edges are known to consist of microenvironments that may provide habitat for a different suite of species than forest interiors. Several abiotic attributes of the microenvironment may contribute to this change across the edge to center gradient (e.g., light, air temperature, soil moisture, humidity). Biotic components, such as seed dispersal, may also give rise to changes in species composition from forest edge to interior. We predicted that abiotic and biotic measures would correlate with distance from forest edge and would differ among aspects. To test these predictions, we measured abiotic and biotic variables on twelve 175 m transects in each of two 24 ha forest fragments in east-central Illinois that have remained in continuous isolation for upwards of 100 years. Both univariate and multivariate techniques were used to best describe the complex relationships among abiotic factors and between abiotic and biotic factors. Results indicate that microclimatic variables differ in the degree to and distance over which they show an edge effect. Relative humidity shows the widest edge, while light and soil moisture have the steepest gradients. Aspect influences are evidenced by the existence of more pronounced edge effects on south and west edges, except when these edges are protected by adjacent habitat. Edges bordered by agricultural fields have more extreme changes in microclimate than those bordered by trees. According to PCA results, species richness correlates well with microclimatic variation, especially light and soil moisture; however, in many cases species richness had a different depth of edge influence than either of these variables. The herbaceous plant community is heavily dominated by three species. Distributions of individual species as well as changes in plant community composition, estimated with a similarity index, indicate that competition may be influencing the response of the vegetation to the edge to interior gradient. This study indicates that edge effects must be considered when the size and potential buffering habitat of forest preserves are planned.
Buffer zone Conservation Edge effects Forest fragmentation Forest microclimate Herbaceous plant community