How forest edge–center transitions in the herb layer interact with beech dominance versus tree diversity

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AimsForest fragmentation and the associated augmentation of forest edge zones are increasing worldwide. Forest edges are characterized by altered plant species richness and community composition. As the tree layer and its species composition has been shown to influence herb layer composition, changes in tree species composition or richness may weaken or strengthen edge effects in forest ecosystems. We studied effects of the edge–center transition, tree species composition and their potential interaction on the understory vegetation in the Hainich National Park, Germany’s largest connected deciduous forest, allowing to cover large edge–center transects.MethodsWe established 12 transects in an area of 75 km2 of continuous forest, 6 beech-dominated and 6 in multispecies forest stands. Each transect reached from the forest edge up to 500 m into the forest interior. Vegetation relevés were conducted in regular, logarithmic distances along each transect.Important FindingsHerb species richness was influenced by an interaction of edge effects and tree diversity level. With increasing distance from the forest edge, herb species richness remained constant in multispecies forest stands but rapidly decreased in beech-dominated forest stands. Further, herb richness was higher in the interior of multispecies forest stands. Percent forest specialists increased and percent generalists decreased with distance from the edge and this contrasting pattern was much more pronounced in beech-dominated transects. By using structural equation modeling, we identified litter depth mediated by tree species composition as the most important driver of herb layer plant species richness.

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