At the end of the 19th century and along the first half of the 20th century, public policies in Mediterranean countries and elsewhere in Europe strongly promoted pine afforestation for land reclamation and wood production. In many cases, the transition to native forests, more resilient and more diverse, was also foreseen. This study aims to find the overstory characteristics that are best related to the understory of Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis
) plantations, to assist ecosystem restoration goals. We installed 33 circular plots in mature Aleppo pine plantations located in the southeastern Salento peninsula, Apulia, Italy. We measured overstory characteristics and the corresponding understory on these plots. We assessed the effects of overstory variables on understory development (plant density, plant height, and the Magini regeneration index) and diversity (species richness and the Shannon–Wiener index) using linear mixed models (LMM). Understory development and diversity were positively correlated with the Hart–Becking spacing index and negatively correlated with basal area and canopy cover, the three overstory variables that best explained variance. We used polynomial fitting and the subsequent derivation of these functions to determine the values of the Hart–Becking index and of the canopy cover that corresponded to the maximum development (33.7% and 84.6%, respectively) and diversity (32.6% and 86.5%, respectively) of the understory. Redundancy analysis (RDA) showed that late-successional species, including Quercus coccifera
, were associated with higher levels of understory development and stand spacing. These results may assist in the restoration of native ecosystems in Aleppo pine plantations installed in similar ecological conditions.
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