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Veldman J.W.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Brudvig L.A.,Michigan State University | Damschen E.I.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Orrock J.L.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Vegetation Science

Question: Human-altered disturbance regimes and agricultural land uses are broadly associated with reduced plant species diversity in terrestrial ecosystems. In this study, we seek to understand how fire frequency and agricultural land-use history influence savanna understorey plant diversity through complex relationships (i.e. indirect effects) among multiple biophysical variables. Location: Fort Bragg, NC, US, Savannah River Site, SC, US and Fort Stewart, GA, US. Methods: We use structural equation modelling (SEM) to evaluate the relationships among six groups of predictor variables and their influence on local-scale species richness in pine savannas at 256 sites from three locations in the southeastern USA. In the model, fire frequency and agricultural history are hypothesized to control richness through a combination of direct effects, and indirect effects mediated by resource availability, tree abundance, understorey plant abundance and the O horizon (litter and duff depth). Results: Frequent fires promote richness by limiting tree abundance, which increases understorey abundance and reduces the O horizon. Frequent fires also limit the O horizon independent of tree abundance. Of the total positive effect of fire on richness, 70% is attributable to reductions in the O horizon and 30% to reduced tree abundance. Agricultural history has a negative effect on richness through a positive correlation with tree abundance, which decreases understorey abundance and increases the O horizon. Agricultural history has a modest negative effect on richness by reducing resource availability as well as a strong direct negative effect (38% of the total effect) that is unrelated to other modelled variables. Conclusions: Through a multivariate framework and large-scale data set, this study unites and tests our understanding of the factors that control plant species diversity in a fire-dependent ecosystem. We show that the effects of fire frequency and agricultural history on richness are largely mediated through other ecosystem attributes, including vegetation structure (i.e. tree and understorey abundance), resource availability and the O horizon. Persistent, negative effects of agricultural history demonstrate the slow rates of savanna plant community recovery on post-agricultural land and highlight the conservation value of frequently burned savanna remnants. © 2014 International Association for Vegetation Science. Source

De Steven D.,Us Forest Service Southern Research Station | Sharitz R.R.,Savannah River Ecology Laboratory | Barton C.D.,University of Kentucky

Depressional wetlands may be restored passively by disrupting prior drainage to recover original hydrology and relying on natural revegetation. Restored hydrology selects for wetland vegetation; however, depression geomorphology constrains the achievable hydroperiod, and plant communities are influenced by hydroperiod and available species pools. Such constraints can complicate assessments of restoration success. Sixteen drained depressions in South Carolina, USA, were restored experimentally by forest clearing and ditch plugging for potential crediting to a mitigation bank. Depressions were assigned to alternate revegetation methods representing desired targets of herbaceous and wet-forest communities. After five years, restoration progress and revegetation methods were evaluated. Restored hydroperiods differed among wetlands, but all sites developed diverse vegetation of native wetland species. Vegetation traits were influenced by hydroperiod and the effects of early drought, rather than by revegetation method. For mitigation banking, individual wetlands were assessed for improvement from pre-restoration condition and similarity to assigned reference type. Most wetlands met goals to increase hydroperiod, herb-species dominance, and wetland-plant composition. Fewer wetlands achieved equivalence to reference types because some vegetation targets were incompatible with depression hydroperiods and improbable without intensive management. The results illustrated a paradox in judging success when vegetation goals may be unsuited to system constraints. © Society of Wetland Scientists (Outside the USA) 2010. Source

Drake J.E.,University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign | Drake J.E.,Boston University | Gallet-Budynek A.,Boston University | Gallet-Budynek A.,French National Institute for Agricultural Research | And 19 more authors.
Ecology Letters

The earth's future climate state is highly dependent upon changes in terrestrial C storage in response to rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2. Here we show that consistently enhanced rates of net primary production (NPP) are sustained by a C-cascade through the root-microbe-soil system; increases in the flux of C belowground under elevated CO2 stimulated microbial activity, accelerated the rate of soil organic matter decomposition and stimulated tree uptake of N bound to this SOM. This process set into motion a positive feedback maintaining greater C gain under elevated CO2 as a result of increases in canopy N content and higher photosynthetic N-use efficiency. The ecosystem-level consequence of the enhanced requirement for N and the exchange of plant C for N belowground is the dominance of C storage in tree biomass but the preclusion of a large C sink in the soil. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS. Source

Mattingly W.B.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Mattingly W.B.,Eastern Connecticut State University | Orrock J.L.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Collins C.D.,Colby College | And 4 more authors.

Land-use legacies are known to shape the diversity and distribution of plant communities, but we lack an understanding of whether historical land use influences community responses to contemporary disturbances. Because human-modified landscapes often bear a history of multiple land-use activities, this contingency can challenge our understanding of land-use impacts on plant diversity. We address this contingency by evaluating how beta diversity (the spatial variability of species composition), an important component of regional biodiversity, is shaped by interactions between historical agriculture and prescribed fire, two prominent disturbances that are often coincident in terrestrial ecosystems. At three study locations spanning 450 km in the southeastern United States, we surveyed longleaf pine woodland understory plant communities across 232 remnant and post-agricultural sites with differing prescribed fire regimes. Our results demonstrate that agricultural legacies are a strong predictor of beta diversity, but the direction of this land-use effect differed among the three study locations. Further, although beta diversity increased with prescribed fire frequency at each study location, this effect was influenced by agricultural land-use history, such that positive fire effects were only documented among sites that lacked a history of agriculture at two of our three study locations. Our study not only highlights the role of historical agriculture in shaping beta diversity in a fire-maintained ecosystem but also illustrates how this effect can be contingent upon fire regime and geographic location. We suggest that interactions among historical and contemporary land-use activities may help to explain dissimilarities in plant communities among sites in human-dominated landscapes. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Source

Brudvig L.A.,Michigan State University | Orrock J.L.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Damschen E.I.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Collins C.D.,Colby College | And 5 more authors.

Ecological restoration is frequently guided by reference conditions describing a successfully restored ecosystem; however, the causes and magnitude of ecosystem degradation vary, making simple knowledge of reference conditions insufficient for prioritizing and guiding restoration. Ecological reference models provide further guidance by quantifying reference conditions, as well as conditions at degraded states that deviate from reference conditions. Many reference models remain qualitative, however, limiting their utility. We quantified and evaluated a reference model for southeastern U.S. longleaf pine woodland understory plant communities. We used regression trees to classify 232 longleaf pine woodland sites at three locations along the Atlantic coastal plain based on relationships between understory plant community composition, soils (which broadly structure these communities), and factors associated with understory degradation, including fire frequency, agricultural history, and tree basal area. To understand the spatial generality of this model, we classified all sites together and for each of three study locations separately. Both the regional and location-specific models produced quantifiable degradation gradients-i.e., progressive deviation from conditions at 38 reference sites, based on understory species composition, diversity and total cover, litter depth, and other attributes. Regionally, fire suppression was the most important degrading factor, followed by agricultural history, but at individual locations, agricultural history or tree basal area was most important. At one location, the influence of a degrading factor depended on soil attributes. We suggest that our regional model can help prioritize longleaf pine woodland restoration across our study region; however, due to substantial landscape-to-landscape variation, local management decisions should take into account additional factors (e.g., soil attributes). Our study demonstrates the utility of quantifying degraded states and provides a series of hypotheses for future experimental restoration work. More broadly, our work provides a framework for developing and evaluating reference models that incorporate multiple, interactive anthropogenic drivers of ecosystem degradation. © 2014 Brudvig et al. Source

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