Plant, small mammal, and bird community responses to a gradient of site preparation intensities in pine plantations in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina
Lane, Vanessa Rae
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Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) stands are common in the southeastern United States, where combinations of mechanical (MSP) and chemical site preparation (CSP) and herbaceous weed control (HWC) treatments are used during stand establishment to manage competing vegetation and increase pine production. Although these techniques vary widely in their effects on plant communities, few long-term studies have described relationships between site preparation intensity and plant and wildlife diversity. Therefore, I examined effects of 6 treatments of increasing intensity via combinations of mechanical [wide spacing/strip shear (SSW) or narrow spacing/roller chop (RCN)] and CSP (application or no application) treatments with HWC (broadcast or banded) 1 year after site preparation on plant and wildlife communities in loblolly pine plantations (n = 6) in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina, USA, for 8 years following site preparation. Type of MSP or pine spacing had little impact on plant communities. SSW supported more small mammals in years 1-2 and increased bird abundance in years 1-6 over RCN. Chemical SP had the greatest effect on plant communities by reducing woody cover and species richness by approximately 50% in all years over plots lacking CSP. Chemical SP reduced small mammal abundance and species richness in years 1-2, reduced bird abundance in year 2, increased bird abundance in year 6, had no effect on bird abundance after year 7, and did not affect bird species richness in any year. Broadcast HWC reduced herbaceous plant cover and richness in year 1 over banded HWC, but type of HWC had little effect on woody cover, pine cover, or small mammal and bird communities. Increasing intensity through the addition of vegetation control methods had few cumulative impacts on plant and animal communities beyond the effects of MSP or pine spacing (small mammals and birds) or the use of CSP (woody plants). If CSP is needed to control competing vegetation, CSP can be paired with wide spacing and banded HWC to encourage vegetation structure used by small mammals and birds. Intensively managed pine forests can contribute to plant and wildlife conservation due to the diverse array of habitats contained within these forests.