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Keywords:

  • Canopy structure;
  • Clipping;
  • Establishment;
  • Solidago;
  • Species richness
  • Radford et al. (1968)

Abstract. Early old-field succession provides a model system for examining vegetation response to disturbance frequency and intensity within a manageable time scale. Disturbance frequency and intensity can interact with colonization and competition to influence relative abundance of earlier and later successional species and determine, respectively, how often and how far succession can be reset. We tested the joint effects of disturbance frequency and intensity on vegetation response (species richness, abundance, canopy structure) during the first six years of succession by clipping the dominant species (D) or all species (T) in spring and fall of each year (S), once per year in summer (Y1), each two years in summer (Y2), or each four years in summer (Y4). Vegetation response reflected disturbance effects on expansion of a later monospecific dominant perennial herb, Solidago altissima, and persistence of the early, richer flora of annuals. A more abundant and taller top Solidago canopy developed on plots clipped each 2 yr or less frequently. Plots clipped yearly or seasonally were richer, but had less abundant, shorter, and differently stratified canopy. Disturbance mediated the relative abundance of early and later successional species; however, frequency and intensity effects were not completely congruent. Persistence of a richer early successional flora increased through the most frequent disturbance (S), and was magnified by disturbance intensity. Disturbance as extreme as clipping all vegetation twice yearly did not cause a drop in species richness, but maintained the early successional community over the first six years of succession. We conclude that clipping disturbance influenced the rate of succession, but the early community could rebound through the range of disturbance frequency and intensity tested.