We measured 34 years of plant community change in a degraded oak woodland undergoing ecological management. Management included regular prescribed fire, control of white-tailed deer populations, repeated sowing of a diverse seed mix, and removal of invasive plants. We tracked change with several conservation metrics. Time series analysis showed no significant changes over time in either plant species richness or the Shannon-Weiner diversity index. Floristic Quality Assessment measures—the Floristic Quality Index (FQI), Cover-weighted FQI, and the Mean Coefficient of Conservatism (Mean C)—all increased dramatically over time, such that their values now surpass those of the highest quality representative of this habitat in the region. Cover-weighted FQI had the added benefit of being quick to respond (negatively and positively) to short-term management changes during the study. This sensitivity highlights its utility for adaptive management, enabling timely, data-driven changes to ongoing management regimes. Plant community composition showed striking changes during the study period, as species of high conservation value replaced weedier species. As a group, conservative woodland species are notoriously slow to recover from degradation, making this flora’s recovery particularly notable. A mid-study cessation of management immediately stalled the woodland’s recovery according to Floristic Quality metrics, but the restoration quickly returned to its positive trajectory with the resumption of management treatments. These results illustrate that impressive plant biodiversity restoration can be achieved, even in highly degraded contemporary oak ecosystems, if ecological management is comprehensive and if it is sustained over time.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
Packard, S. (Creator) & Spyreas, G. R. (Creator), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Nov 1 2020