Quantifying the Consequences of Conifer Succession in Aspen Stands: Decline in a Biodiversity-Supporting Community
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michaux) stands are important for biodiversity in conifer-dominated forest landscapes. Our goal was to quantify the consequences of conifer succession on understory diversity and litter quality, as well as associated changes in aspen stand condition. We studied aspen stands on national park land in the transition zone between the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade mountain ranges. We field-measured ten metrics of aspen stand condition in 29 aspen stands. Along a gradient of increasing current conifer cover, we observed decreases in herbaceous species diversity and richness and an increase in forest floor O horizon depth. We interpreted aerial photos from 1952 and 1998 to determine whether directional changes in conifer cover had occurred in the stands over the past half century, and used regression modeling to associate succession with the observed range of aspen stand condition. From the period 1952 to 1998, we found that conifer encroachment occurred in half the sampled stands, with an average increase in conifer cover of 1 % a year. Aspen were persistent in the remaining stands. Stand cover dynamics and percent total canopy cover interacted to influence species richness, diversity, aspen sprouting, and litter quality. In stands with conifer encroachment, both understory species richness and diversity declined. Although aspen sprouting increased, aspen establishment declined and the relative mass of woody to fine soil litter increased.
McCullough, S.A., O’Geen, A.T., Whiting, M.L. et al. Environ Monit Assess (2013) 185: 5563. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-012-2967-4