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Forests 2016, 7(1), 9; doi:10.3390/f7010009

Foundation Species Loss and Biodiversity of the Herbaceous Layer in New England Forests

1
Harvard Forest, Harvard University, 324 North Main Street, Petersham, MA 01366, USA
2
Department of Botany, Islamia College, Peshawar 25000, Pakistan
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Diana F. Tomback
Received: 4 November 2015 / Revised: 4 December 2015 / Accepted: 21 December 2015 / Published: 25 December 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biodiversity and Conservation in Forests)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [1629 KB, uploaded 25 December 2015]   |  

Abstract

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is a foundation species in eastern North American forests. Because eastern hemlock is a foundation species, it often is assumed that the diversity of associated species is high. However, the herbaceous layer of eastern hemlock stands generally is sparse, species-poor, and lacks unique species or floristic assemblages. The rapidly spreading, nonnative hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tusgae) is causing widespread death of eastern hemlock. Loss of individual hemlock trees or whole stands rapidly leads to increases in species richness and cover of shrubs, herbs, graminoids, ferns, and fern-allies. Naively, one could conclude that the loss of eastern hemlock has a net positive effect on biodiversity. What is lost besides hemlock, however, is landscape-scale variability in the structure and composition of the herbaceous layer. In the Harvard Forest Hemlock Removal Experiment, removal of hemlock by either girdling (simulating adelgid infestation) or logging led to a proliferation of early-successional and disturbance-dependent understory species. In other declining hemlock stands, nonnative plant species expand and homogenize the flora. While local richness increases in former eastern hemlock stands, between-site and regional species diversity will be further diminished as this iconic foundation species of eastern North America succumbs to hemlock woolly adelgid. View Full-Text
Keywords: Adelges tsugae; flora; Harvard Forest; herbaceous layer; species diversity; species richness; Tsuga canadensis; understory Adelges tsugae; flora; Harvard Forest; herbaceous layer; species diversity; species richness; Tsuga canadensis; understory
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Ellison, A.M.; Barker Plotkin, A.A.; Khalid, S. Foundation Species Loss and Biodiversity of the Herbaceous Layer in New England Forests. Forests 2016, 7, 9.

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