Question: Does the overstorey of pine savannas influence plant species biodiversity in the ground cover?
Location: Camp Whispering Pines (30°41’N; 90°29’W), eastern Louisiana (USA).
Methods: We used ecologically sensitive restoration logging to remove patches of Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) in a second-growth loess plain Pinus palustris savanna managed using frequent lightning season fires. Five years later, we measured numbers of vascular plant species and transmitted light in replicated 100-m2 plots. Treatments involved three different overstorey conditions: no overstorey for 5 years, no overstorey for several decades, and overstorey pines present for decades.
Results: Both recent and long-term openings contained, on average, about 100 vascular plant species per 100 m2, 20% more than in similar-sized areas beneath overstorey trees. Responses varied with life form; more herbaceous species occurred in recent and older overstorey openings than beneath overstorey trees. Total numbers of all species and of less abundant forb species were positively and linearly related to light transmitted to ground level. Those species responding to openings in the overstorey and positively associated with increased transmitted light levels were monocarpic and shortlived perennial forb and grass species with a seed bank in the soil. In addition, community structure, as reflected in species composition and abundances, appeared to vary with canopy condition.
Conclusions: Restoration involving ecologically sensitive removal of patches of overstorey pines in frequently burned pine savannas should benefit the ground cover and increase plant species biodiversity as a result of increased abundance of seed bank species.