We investigated the effects of skidder traffic intensity, soil disturbance intensity, and canopy removal intensity on the richness, diversity, composition, and cover of the entire ground flora (woody and herbaceous vegetation ≤2 m tall), various individual life forms, invasive/noxious species, and species with different requirements with respect to moisture, nutrients, heat, and light (synecological coordinates) in a mesic northern hardwood stand 6 years after a clearcut-with-reserves regeneration harvest removed 50-100% of the canopy. Skidder traffic was restricted to a network of trails and a global positioning system (GPS) tracked skidder movement to quantify the number of passes at pre-established sampling points along the anticipated soil disturbance gradient on and off skid trails. Soil disturbance intensity within the top 15 cm of soil was quantified by relativized resistance to penetration (RRP) compared to untrafficked plots; post-harvest increases in RRP ranged from 81 to 272%. Regression analysis and ordination revealed a pattern of increasing difference from pre-disturbance composition with increasing skidder traffic (i.e., forest floor disturbance), with increased RRP (i.e., soil compaction) and (less so) canopy removal intensity. The ground flora shifted from interior forest species such as Anemone quiquefolia, Aralia nudicaulis, Clintonia borealis, Maianthemum canadense, and Oryzopsis asperifolia to more ruderal, invasive/noxious, and disturbed-forest species such as Aster lateriflorus, Cirsium spp., Phleum pretense, Rubus idaeus, and Trifolium spp. The relative resistance of the initial ground flora to change (inverse of the distances between pre- and post-harvest samples in ordination space) was nonlinearly related to skidder traffic intensity and linearly related to RRP, indicating that the largest compositional changes occurred with the first few passes of the skidder. Mean plot scores for the synecological coordinates revealed that the post-harvest species were on average less demanding of water and nutrients; the opposite was true for light. Plots exposed to less skidder traffic and RRP had higher herb cover and higher nutrient scores; those with more skidder traffic and higher RRP levels had higher shrub cover and higher light scores. We conclude that protection of the ground flora from forest floor and soil disturbance requires careful planning of skid trail networks. Concentrating skidder traffic to a designated skid trail system can result in less area disturbed and spatially connected networks of larger, untrafficked remnant forest patches that may maintain species that are sensitive to forest floor and soil disturbance.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law