Understory Vegetation Dynamics across a Poplar Plantation Chronosequence in Reclaimed Coastal Saline Soil
Although the understory vegetation abundance, diversity, and composition associated with stand development in natural forests have been well reported, only a few studies have examined the age-related changes of understory vegetation in fast-growing planted forests in reclaimed soils. This study measured the understory vegetation and soil variables in 8-, 12-, and 18-year-old poplar plantations in reclaimed coastal saline soil of Eastern China. This study examined how the abundance, diversity,
... dance, diversity, and composition changed with stand development and the soil variables. Further, structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to evaluate the direct and indirect factors influencing the abundance and plant diversity throughout stand development. Herb abundance was significantly higher in the youngest and oldest stands, whereas shrub abundance was higher in the middle-aged stands. Shannon's diversity index was significantly higher in the youngest stand for herbs, whereas it was highest in the middle-aged stands for shrubs. A multivariate analysis revealed that the herb and shrub composition were influenced by the stand age, total soil carbon and soil pH. The most parsimonious SEM model showed the negative direct effects of the stand age and the negative indirect effects of the stand age via the soil variables on shrub abundance, shrub diversity, and herb diversity, suggesting that the increase of overstory biomass with the stand age reduces resources available for the understory. Our results revealed that understory diversity and composition might change with stand development mediated by the changes in understory light and soil resources in fast-growing plantations.