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Habitat may limit herb migration at the northern edge of the Appalachian deciduous forest

Publication: Botany
15 September 2011


Forest herbs account for greater species richness than any other plant type in deciduous forests and are the most vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances. We examined whether the limited distribution of rare Appalachian forest herbs in Nova Scotia is related to edaphic specialization or a history of anthropogenic disturbance. Remnant populations are restricted to floodplain forest, where both habitat factors and disturbance history differ significantly from those of adjacent upland sugar maple forest. Contrasting soil and litter layers between floodplain stands and adjacent upland sites revealed the latter to be deficient in key cations (calcium, magnesium, boron); however, regression models for uplands and for floodplains showed that native herb richness was related to soil fertility in each case. Soil calcium accounted for most of the species richness variation among floodplains for native herbs and for a large seeded guild that contains most of the rare species on floodplains. Given the widespread anthropogenic decalcification of forest soils throughout eastern North America, conservation efforts must (i) increase and connect deciduous forest floodplain ecosystems and (ii) understand how to manage and create suitable cation-rich migration corridors in the forest landscape.


Les herbes forestières comportent une plus grande richesse en espèces que tous les autres types de plantes dans les forêts décidues, et montrent la plus grande vulnérabilité aux perturbations anthropogènes. Les auteurs cherchent à savoir si la distribution des herbes forestières rares des Appalaches en Nouvelle-Écosse se relie à une spécialisation édaphique ou à une historique de perturbations anthropogènes. On observe des populations vestigiales restreintes à la plaine inondable, où à la fois les facteurs de l’habitat et l’historique des perturbations diffèrent significativement de la forêt d’érable des hautes terres adjacentes. Le contraste des couches de litières et de sols entre les peuplements de la plaine inondable et les sites des hautes terres adjacentes montrent que chez ces derniers une déficience critique en cations (Ca, Mg, Bo), cependant, les modèles de régression pour les hautes terres et les plaines inondables montrent une relation entre la richesse en herbes indigène et la fertilité du sol dans chaque cas. Le calcium du sol rend compte de la majeure partie de la variation en richesse en espèces d’herbes indigènes entre les plaines inondables, et d’une importante guilde de semis contenant la plupart de espèces rares des plaines inondables. Compte tenu de la décalcification anthropogène étendue des sols forestiers sur l’ensemble de l’est de l’Amérique du Nord, les efforts de conservation doivent : (i) augmenter et relier les écosystèmes de la plaine inondable, et : (ii) comprendre comment aménager et créer des corridors de migration riches en cations, dans le paysage forestier.

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Published In

cover image Botany
Volume 89Number 9September 2011
Pages: 635 - 645


Received: 3 January 2011
Accepted: 2 August 2011
Version of record online: 15 September 2011


This paper is dedicated to our botanical mentor, the late Dr. Sam P. Vander Kloet.


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Key Words

  1. Appalachian flora
  2. calcium depletion
  3. Caulophyllum
  4. forest management
  5. understory herbs
  6. remnant floodplains


  1. flore des Appalaches
  2. épuisement en calcium
  3. Caulophyllum
  4. aménagement forestier
  5. herbes de sous-bois
  6. plaines inondables vestigiales



Nicholas M. Hill
Fern Hill Institute for Plant Conservation, 424 Bentley Road, South Berwick, NS, Canada
David J. Garbary
Biology Department, Saint Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, B2G 2W5 NS, Canada

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