Effects of forest roads on understory plants in a managed hardwood landscape

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The effect of forest roads on species distribution and dispersal is an important conservation and management issue. We examined distributions of understory plants and their relationships to unpaved forest roads in a northern hardwood landscape in the Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin (U.S.A.). At six different sites, we recorded species cover, canopy cover, litter depth and cover, and bare ground at 11 distances (0, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 150 m) from the road edge. At each of the 11 distances, we established a 60-m transect parallel to the road edge, within which we sampled 10 randomlyplaced 1 X 1 m plots (660 plots). We examined changes in species abundance (percent species cover per plot), richness, and Shannon-Wiener diversity (H′) with distance from the roads in an effort to determine the degree and magnitude of road effects on plant distribution. The species richness and H′ of native plants and the abundance of exotic species were clearly related to distance from the roads. Exotic species were most prevalent within 15 m of roads, occurring infrequently in the interior forest. The richness and H′ of native species were lower on the roadsides but reached interior-forest levels within a short distance (5 m) from the roads. The roads appeared to be associated with a disturbance corridor that affected site variables up to 15 m into the hardwood stands. At our six sites we detected 117 species, 25% of which occurred more frequently near the road, with only 12% having a 90% or greater preference for the forest interior. Our results suggest that roads have associated effects that alter interior-forest conditions and thus plant species composition and abundance; however, these effects are limited in depth of penetration into managed forests.

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Conservation Biology