The mixed Cunninghamia lanceolata
(Lamb.) Hook., Pinus massoniana
Lamb., and hardwood forest in southeastern China is a major assemblage in natural secondary forests, and of national and international importance in terms of both timber and ecosystem services. However, over-harvesting has threatened its long-term sustainability, and there is a knowledge gap relating to the effect of harvesting on the ecosystem. After conifer species were selected for harvesting, the mixed Chinese fir, pine, and hardwood forest was changed into mixed evergreen broadleaf forest. In this context, we observed the restoration dynamics of plant communities over a period of 15 years (1996 to 2011) with different levels of harvesting intensity, including selective harvesting at low (13.0% removal of growing stock volume), medium (29.1%), high (45.8%), and extra-high (67.1%) intensities, as well as clear-cut harvesting (100.0%), with non-harvesting as the control, based on permanent sample plots established in a randomized block design in these forests in southeastern China. The impact on the richness, diversity, and evenness of plant species derived from descriptive statistical analyses was shown to initially increase, and then decrease, with an increase in harvesting intensity. The most critical impacts were on the richness, diversity, and evenness of shrub and herb species. Richness, diversity, and evenness of plant species recovered and increased under selective harvesting at low and medium intensities, while these parameters had not recovered and significantly decreased under selective harvesting at high and extra-high intensities, as well as with clear-cut harvesting. The impact on the plant community stability was derived from the stability test method of the improved Godron M. The plant community stability was closest to the point of stability (20/80) under selective harvesting at medium intensity, followed by selective harvesting at low intensity. The plant community stability was far from the point of stability (20/80) under selective harvesting at high and extra-high intensities, as well as with clear-cut harvesting. Of these treatments, clear-cut harvesting had the greatest effect with regard to reducing stability. Therefore, these results indicate that the selective harvesting at low and medium intensities is conducive to preserve or increase the species diversity and community stability. In order to prioritize promoting plant species diversity, clear-cut harvesting and selective harvesting at high and extra-high intensities should be avoided with regard to this type of forest in this region. This study sheds light on the practice of forest operation in the study region and subtropical forests with the same environment.
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