• Colonization;
  • Dispersal;
  • Forest species;
  • Secondary succession;
  • Species pool
  • De Langhe et al. (1988)

Abstract. Recently established forests are commonly characterized by an impoverished understorey. Restoration is mostly based on spontaneous secondary succession, but little is known about the time period needed to achieve a community species pool with species composition equal to that of ancient forests.

Vegetation in transects of 197 plots in 13 recent forest stands contiguous to the Meerdaalwoud ancient forest complex was surveyed. The recent forest stands ranged in age from 36 to 132 yr. The community species pool was described with an ecological, functional and phytosociological approach and based on groups derived from a CCA. Differences in community species pool between age classes of recent forest stands were analysed.

During establishment of a new forest competitive species, forest edge species and species with high Ellenberg values for light and nitrogen and a more persistent seed bank will dominate the understorey. After 90 yr of succession the cover by these species decreases and reaches equal values to ancient forest after ca. 105 yr. A large number of forest species will be able to colonize the forest in less than 90 yr. Some typical forest species, however, have very low colonization rates and still have low cover in recent forest more than 105 yr old, so that complete restoration of the understorey requires a time period of over a century. Anthropogenic introduction of forest plant species may reduce the time required for ancient forest vegetation equality.