Quantifying the impact of an extreme climate event on species diversity in fragmented temperate forests: the effect of the October 1987 storm on British broadleaved woodlands

Smart, Simon M. ORCID:; Ellison, Aaron M.; Bunce, Robert G.H.; Marrs, Robert H.; Kirby, Keith J.; Kimberley, Adam; Scott, Andy W.; Foster, David R.. 2014 Quantifying the impact of an extreme climate event on species diversity in fragmented temperate forests: the effect of the October 1987 storm on British broadleaved woodlands. Journal of Ecology, 102 (5). 1273-1287.

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1. We report the impact of an extreme weather event, the October 1987 severe storm, on fragmented woodlands in southern Britain. We analysed ecological changes between 1971 and 2002 in 143 200-m2 plots in 10 woodland sites exposed to the storm with an ecologically equivalent sample of 150 plots in 16 non-exposed sites. In both years, understorey species-richness, species composition, soil pH and woody basal area of the tree and shrub canopy were measured. 2. We tested the hypothesis that the storm had deflected sites from the wider national trajectory of an increase in woody basal area and reduced understorey species-richness associated with ageing canopies and declining woodland management. We also expected storm disturbance to amplify the background trend of increasing soil pH, a UK-wide response to reduced atmospheric sulphur deposition. Path analysis was used to quantify indirect effects of storm exposure on understorey species richness via changes in woody basal area and soil pH. 3. By 2002, storm exposure was estimated to have increased mean species richness per 200 m2 by 32%. Woody basal area changes were highly variable and did not significantly differ with storm exposure. 4. Increasing soil pH was associated with a 7% increase in richness. There was no evidence that soil pH increased more as a function of storm exposure. Changes in species richness and basal area were negatively correlated: a 3.4% decrease in richness occurred for every 0.1-m2 increase in woody basal area per plot. 5. Despite all sites substantially exceeding the empirical critical load for nitrogen deposition, there was no evidence that in the 15 years since the storm, disturbance had triggered a eutrophication effect associated with dominance of gaps by nitrophilous species. 6. Synthesis: Although the impacts of the 1987 storm were spatially variable in terms of impacts on woody basal area, the storm had a positive effect on understorey species richness. There was no evidence that disturbance had increased dominance of gaps by invasive species. This could change if recovery from acidification results in a soil pH regime associated with greater macronutrient availability.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Parr
UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 0022-0477
Additional Keywords: bayesian structural, equation modelling, biodiversity, extreme weather, global change, land-use, mixed models, path analysis, plant traits, resilience
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 18 Feb 2015 12:15 +0 (UTC)

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