Evaluation of the ecological restoration potential of plant communities in Norway spruce plantations using a life-trait based approach

Authors

  • BRUNO HÉRAULT,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Sciences and Management, University of Liège, Avenue de Longwy 185, 6700 Arlon, Belgium; and
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  • OLIVIER HONNAY,

    1. Department of Environmental Sciences and Management, University of Liège, Avenue de Longwy 185, 6700 Arlon, Belgium; and
    2. Laboratory for Forest, Nature and Landscape Research, University of Leuven, Vital Decosterstraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
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  • DANIEL THOEN

    1. Department of Environmental Sciences and Management, University of Liège, Avenue de Longwy 185, 6700 Arlon, Belgium; and
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Bruno Hérault, Department of Environmental Sciences and Management, University of Liège, Avenue de Longwy 185, 6700 Arlon, Belgium (fax +32 63230800; e-mail herault@ful.ac.be).

Summary

  • 1In Europe, intensively managed coniferous plantations rarely achieve similar nature conservation functions as deciduous woodlands. The ability to identify coniferous plantations that might be successfully converted to deciduous woodland is a key goal in forest management. The herbaceous plant community composition of mature plantations may be an accurate selection criterion for stands that are most suitable for initiating the conversion process to deciduous forest.
  • 2The herbaceous plant communities in Norway spruce plantations were analysed using a functional group approach. The analysis was conducted in three steps: (i) identification of emergent groups (EG) by multivariate classification; (ii) comparison of EG abundance between coniferous and deciduous stands (i.e. the target communities); (iii) partitioning the variation in EG abundance in coniferous plantations between forest management, local environmental and regional variables.
  • 3Seven EG were identified: two core forest groups (short geophytes and zoochoreous perennials), two groups from open habitats (annuals and helophytes) and three mixed groups (anemochoreous perennials, graminoids and short perennials).
  • 4Among the core forest groups, short geophytes were severely under-represented in plantations (because of their low dispersal abilities and specific habitat requirements) while zoochoreous perennials were slightly more abundant (because of their good dispersal and competitive abilities).
  • 5Regional variables largely influenced the abundance of core-forest EG. Restoration of communities rich in zoochoreous perennials is far easier than restoring short geophyte-rich communities because of the different colonization abilities of these EG.
  • 6Forest management variables were of secondary importance for the restoration potential of plantations. Because generalist EG were favoured by low stand densities, forest practitioners should avoid large thinning operations.
  • 7Local environmental variables played a minor role in determining EG abundance. However, short geophytes preferred rather high soil pH values and were therefore negatively affected by acidification caused by coniferous litter.
  • 8Synthesis and applications. The performance of short geophytes is the key to conversion success of Norway spruce plantations to deciduous forest. Stands located on base-rich soils and in landscapes with high forest connectivity are the most appropriate candidates for initiating the conversion process. For other types of stands, future work should explore the possibility of restoring other land-use types, such as annually mown meadows.

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