Response of Understory Species to Gap Formation and Soil Disturbance m Lonicera maackii Thickets



We studied the utility of gap formation and soil disturbance as methods to enhance establishment of plant species in the understory of a northern Kentucky forest where Lonicera maackii (Amur honeysuckle) produced dense thickets. In May 1994, gaps (5 m diameter) were cut in the shrub thicket. In adjacent areas, the shrub canopy remained intact. Subplots were established where soil was either turned with a spade to a depth of 15 cm or not disturbed. We monitored plant establishment for three growing seasons (1994, 1995, and 1996). Shrub removal increased light availability to about 10% of full sun. Gap formation had a significant (p < 0.05) and positive influence on total plant density (exclusive of L. maackii), and soil disturbance did not (p > 0.05). After three growing seasons, the most important species were L. maackii, Alliaria petiolata, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Vitis vulpina, and Acer negundo. Of these species, only V. vulpina showed significantly (p < 0.05) higher densities in gaps. Other less important species such as Phytolacca americana, Campsis radicans, and Eupatorium rugosum occurred almost exclusively in gaps. Of the 44 taxa observed in this study, most were generalist species that also occur in early successional habitats. Long-term dominance of the understory by L. maackii has likely modified system attributes with corresponding effects on community development. Shrub removal provides a window of establishment for various plant species, but successful restoration may require further management species availability and to control new invaders.