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Secondary Succession and Natural Habitat Restoration in Abandoned Rice Fields of Central Korea

Authors

  • Chang-Seok Lee,

    Corresponding author
    1. Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences, Seoul Women's University, Seoul 139-774, Korea
      Address correspondence to Chang-Seok Lee, Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences, Seoul Women's University, 126 Kongneung 2-dong, Nowon-gu, Seoul 139-774, Korea. Tel: 82-2-970-5666; Fax: 82-2-970-5822; E-mail: lp7865@yahoo.com
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  • Young-Han You,

    1. Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences, Seoul Women's University, Seoul 139-774, Korea
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  • George R. Robinson

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York at Albany, New York 12222, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to Chang-Seok Lee, Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences, Seoul Women's University, 126 Kongneung 2-dong, Nowon-gu, Seoul 139-774, Korea. Tel: 82-2-970-5666; Fax: 82-2-970-5822; E-mail: lp7865@yahoo.com

Abstract

Floristic composition and soil characteristics (moisture, pH, nutrient contents) in abandoned upland rice paddies of different ages were analyzed to clarify the regenerative aspects of succession as a tool for habitat restoration. The study sites represented five seral stages: newly abandoned paddy fields; successional paddy fields abandoned for 3, 7, and 10 years; and a 50-year-old Alnus japonica forest. A vegetation sere was apparent in changes of dominant plant species in the order Alopecurus aequalis var. amurensis (annual grass), Aneilema keisak (annual forb), Juncus effusus var. decipiens (rush), Salix koriyanagi (willow), and Alnus japonica (alder) communities. These temporal stages resemble the spatial zonation of vegetation in local riparian floodplain ecosystems, indicating a hydrosere, with soil moisture decreasing over time. Age distributions and life forms of the dominant plant species support a “tolerance” model of secondary succession, in which the established species persist into later successional stages. Persistence of earlier colonizers led to a net cumulative increase in species richness and a more even distribution of species cover with increasing field age. Between 10 and 50 years, vegetation stabilizes as an alder community. Soil moisture content decreased steadily with paddy field age after an initial rise immediately after their abandonment, whereas pools of organic matter, N, P, K, Ca, and Mg, increased with field age. The pace and direction of recovery of native vegetation and natural soil properties in these abandoned rice paddies resembled classic old field succession, a form of secondary succession that often serves as a template for guiding restoration efforts. Active intervention, in particular dismantling artificial levees, could accelerate the recovery process, but natural habitat recovery generally appears sufficiently robust to achieve “passive” restoration of this rare community without intervention.

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