Interactions between past land use, life-history traits and understory spatial heterogeneity

Jennifer M. Fraterrigo, Monica G. Turner, Scott M. Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Past land use has contributed to variability in the distribution of herbaceous species by reducing plant abundance and altering species' chances of recolonizing suitable habitat. Land use may also influence plant heterogeneity by changing environmental conditions within stands. We compared the variability of understory herb abundance in southern Appalachian forests with different land-use histories to examine how past land use influenced plant heterogeneity. The cover of eleven focal species or genera was estimated and mineral soil concentrations were determined during 2001 and 2002 in eight stands that were farmed, logged, or had no disturbance history (reference) in western North Carolina. Analysis of the coefficients of variation revealed that the abundance of understory plants was more heterogeneous in disturbed stands compared with reference stands. However, when nutrient availability differences were accounted for by detrending the plant cover data, understory variability within stands declined, and no differences between disturbed and reference stands could be distinguished. This finding suggests that nutrient availability has important effects on plant heterogeneity, which depend on past land use. Species dispersal, seed size, and phenology also explained variability in the spatial heterogeneity of plants, but generally only before soil nutrient differences were statistically controlled. In addition to demonstrating that past land use has long-term effects on plant heterogeneity, these results indicate that soil nutrients may play different roles in determining vegetation patterns in historically altered and unaltered forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)777-790
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Dispersal
  • Herbaceous plants
  • Land-use history
  • Plant abundance
  • Seed size
  • Southern Appalachians
  • USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


Dive into the research topics of 'Interactions between past land use, life-history traits and understory spatial heterogeneity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this