Understory succession in post-agricultural oak forests: Habitat fragmentation affects forest specialists and generalists differently

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The herbaceous understory forms the richest stratum in temperate broadleaved forests in terms of plant diversity. Understanding the process of understory succession is thus of critical importance for the development of management guidelines for biodiversity restoration in post-agricultural plantation forests. We studied effects of stand age, forest fragmentation, and soil and canopy conditions on species richness and abundance of four species groups in the understory of post-arable oak plantations in southern Sweden: herbaceous forest specialists, habitat generalists and open-land species, and woody species. The group of forest specialists may approach the richness of continuously forested sites after 60-80 years in non-fragmented plantations, but many forest species were sensitive to habitat fragmentation. Open-land species richness decreased during succession, while the richness of woody species and of generalists remained stable, and was not affected by fragmentation. Abundance of generalists gradually decreased in non-fragmented plantations, probably due to competition from colonizing forest specialists. Soil pH in post-arable stands remained consistently higher than in continuously forested stands, which maintained differences in species composition. The development of a shrub layer seemed to imply a competitive advantage for forest specialists compared to generalist species. For successful recovery of a rich understory, we suggest that post-arable plantations should be established on loamy soils of intermediate to high pH proximate to older forest with source populations, and that a continuous overstory canopy cover of 70-80% is maintained by regular light thinnings and promotion of a shrub layer. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Jorg Brunet
  • Karin Valtinat
  • Marian Lajos Mayr
  • Adam Felton
  • Matts Lindbladh
  • Hans Henrik Bruun
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology


  • Ancient woodland plants, Chronosequence, Dispersal limitation, Herbaceous layer, Quercus robur, Temperate broadleaved forest
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1863-1871
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Plant Ecology and Systematics (Closed 2011) (011004000)