Increasing ground-layer plant taxonomic diversity masks declining phylogenetic diversity along a silvicultural disturbance gradient

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Department of Biological Sciences


Most plant diversity in temperate deciduous forests is found in the ground layer, but nearly all studies comparing plant community assembly using taxonomic, trait, and phylogenetic diversity indices are limited to woody plants. To examine the relationship between short-term ground-layer plant community assembly and disturbance severity, we leveraged a silvicultural experiment that applied a combination of harvest and site preparation treatments in a northern hardwood forest in Michigan, USA. We predicted that after two growing seasons, plant communities would be less sensitive to harvest treatments when compared with site preparation treatments that disturb the rhizosphere and modify rooting substrate. We also predicted that an increase in taxonomic diversity would accompany a decline in trait diversity and phylogenetic diversity. Instead, plant species composition responded similarly to harvest treatment and site preparation treatment. However, our measure of disturbance severity was positively correlated with both trait diversity and taxonomic diversity but negatively correlated with phylogenetic diversity, indicating that increasingly diverse traits and taxonomies along this disturbance severity gradient were comprised of more phylogenetically simple plant communities. Informed management decisions should therefore consider the underlying value of each diversity measure, as taxonomic diversity alone may not be the best metric for assessing plant community assembly.

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Canadian Journal of Forest Research