Agricultural land-use history increases non-native plant invasion in a southern Appalachian forest a century after abandonment

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Land-use history can play a significant role in shaping forest communities. We considered the effects of agricultural land-use legacies on the distribution of non-native invasive plants a century after abandonment in a watershed in western North Carolina, USA. Forest sites that were previously in cultivation and abandoned ca. 1905 were compared with nearby reference sites that were never cultivated. The most common invasive plants were Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb., Microstegium vimineum Trin., and Lonicera japonica Thunb. Formerly cultivated sites and plots positioned downslope from roads had the most invasives. Soil cation concentration and pH were positively correlated with invasive presence and abundance. Historic agricultural plots where the successional tree Liriodendron tulipifera L. was dominant had the highest soil cation concentrations and soil pH and the greatest abundance of invasive plants. Disentangling the cause–effect relationships between land-use history, the biotic community, and the abiotic template presents a challenge, but understanding the role of land-use legacies may provide important insights regarding the mechanisms underlying the establishment and spread of invasive plants in forest ecosystems. Our results suggest that land-use history at Bent Creek may be facilitating plant invasion indirectly by causing a shift in overstory community composition that in turn creates more suitable understory conditions for shade-tolerant invasive plants.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 430 Lincoln Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA. 2: Department of Natural Sciences, Mars Hill College, Mars Hill, NC 28754, USA.

Publication date: May 28, 2011

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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