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Spatial and temporal patterns of plant communities near small mountain streams in managed forests

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Riparian plant communities along small streams occupy a small proportion of the total landscape but can provide disproportionally large ecological, social, and economic benefits. We examined plant communities at 25 study sites along small fish-bearing streams in temperate managed forests of the Pacific Northwest spatially as a function of distance from stream and temporally by assessing a chronosequence of stand ages: young (31–51 years), mature (52–70 years), and old (>100 years). We identified three distinct vegetation communities based on species cover and richness in shrub and herb layers: riparian (0–9 m), transitional (10–29 m), and upslope (30–80 m); 12 species were indicators of these vegetation communities. For tree species, basal area increased with stand age. Shrub species cover and richness were greatest in old stands, but herb species richness was highest in young stands. Composition varied with stand age; 15 species were indicators of these differences in composition. These results, together with information on successional and wetland status, suggest that plant communities on small fish-bearing streams reflect geomorphic and fluvial settings but also follow successional patterns found in natural forests. These stands will become some of the primary unharvested, older forests within the managed forest landscape and provide insights for effective riparian management on sites impacted by historical management practices prior to the regulations requiring riparian buffers.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Weyerhaeuser Global Timberlands Technology, P.O. Box 3777, MS 1B10, Federal Way, WA 98063, USA. 2: Weyerhaeuser Global Timberlands Technology, P.O. Box 3777, MS 1A5, Federal Way, WA 98063, USA. 3: School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Box 354115, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.

Publication date: 2012-02-11

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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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