Relic charcoal hearths are prevalent throughout the Appalachian Mountains as reminders of the wood charcoal era and are evident today by the characteristics of forest stand structure, composition and understory vegetation. The importance of the soil resource to the stability and recovery of these anomalies in the plant community is not well understood. This study was conducted to compare forest floor and soil chemical properties, and vegetative characteristics on relic charcoal hearths to adjacent, non-hearth areas. Overstory tree cover and density was significantly lower on hearths than for adjacent areas. Overstory richness and diversity were consistently, but not significantly, lower on hearths, as were density and species richness of understory and ground vegetation. Little difference between hearth and adjacent forest floor properties was observed; however, soil calcium concentrations, pH, and percent carbon were higher on hearths, and phosphorus concentrations were generally lower. We discuss the effects of releasing large amounts of base-forming cations through repeated use of the hearths and the subsequent long term effects on soil fertility and vegetative development.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Plant Science