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ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Pest Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #329073

Title: Measuring succession: methods for establishing long term vegetation monitoring sites

item SCHANTZ, MERILYNN - Red Rock Resources, Llc
item Espeland, Erin
item Duke, Sara

Submitted to: Plant Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/20/2017
Publication Date: 8/28/2017
Publication URL:
Citation: Schantz, M., Espeland, E.K., Duke, S.E. 2017. Measuring succession: methods for establishing long term vegetation monitoring sites. Plant Ecology. 218(10):1201-1212.

Interpretive Summary: Plant succession is when plant communities age and species composition changes. A well-known example is the transition of mountain ponds to meadows to forests. Weed invasions can alter succession, as can weed removal. In this study, we examine how to set up an informative long term monitoring experiment to understand the consequences of Russian olive tree invasion and removal. We measured soil and vegetation across and within seven riparian sites spanning a 7 km stretch owned by USDA-ARS Ft. Keogh LARRL of the Yellowstone River in southeastern Montana, USA. Using recursive partitioning on vegetation data, a decision tree classification algorithm, we found five distinct site types grouped by tertiary (3rd most dominant woody plant cover). These types were strongly correlated to soil properties. While it would be intuitive to choose monitoring sites based on dominant plant cover, we found that dominant species do not necessarily reflect site history or component ecological processes. We can use the five site types to set up a replicated long term experiment that may eventually be used to describe succession.

Technical Abstract: Successional stages are often characterized by dominant plant species (species with the highest cover) and their effect on the structure and function of an area through time. However, the plant species determining the ecosystem properties and plant community dynamics may not be the dominant, especially when it is exotic. understanding plant community dynamics in ecosystems that are uncharacterized and/or affected by invasive plant species requires a data-driven approach and proper placement of monitoring plots. To generate robust datasets on vegetation change through time, monitoring plot placement must consider the scale of ecological variation for both vegetation and soils and plots would ideally be replicated within similar ecological site types to quantify the consistency of successional transitions. We characterized soil and vegetation across and within seven floodplains affected by Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.) along the Yellowstone River in southeastern Montana, USA. Using modern Classification and Regression Trees (CART) and multivariate net differentiation, we identified five distinct plant community types, or classes, characterized by their tertiary woody plant cover, not the primary species, Russian olive. Our findings indicate that Russian olive communities differ across space, and these riparian areas can be classified into distinct plant community types. Characterizing plant community types via this analytical approach should allow practitioners to modify management decisions and forecast succession within relevant plant communities.