Forest Community Structure and Composition Following Containment Treatments for the Fungal Pathogen Oak Wilt

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Biological Invasions

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In temperate oak forests in Ohio, USA, we examined variability in forest communities within containment treatment sites for oak wilt (Bretziella fagacearum), a fungal pathogen lethal to susceptible oak species. Containment treatments included quarantine lines in soil for limiting belowground fungal spread and sanitation cutting of 1–3 mature black oak (Quercus velutina) trees within oak wilt infection patches. At 28 sites, we compared tree structure and understory plant communities across a gradient of 1- to 6-year-old treatments and reference forest (untreated and without evidence of oak wilt). While oak seedlings were abundant, oak saplings (1–10 cm in diameter) were absent. In contrast, many native understory plant community measures were highest in oak wilt treatments. Plant species richness 100 m−2 doubled in treatments, regardless of age, compared with reference forest. Plant cover increased with treatment age, with 6-year-old treatments exhibiting 5 × more cover than reference forest. Non-native plants averaged only a small proportion (< 0.12) of cover across treatments and reference forest. Variability in understory communities was mostly predictable using treatment age, tree canopy cover, and geographic location, as 20 of 25 understory measures had at least 72% of their variance modeled. While oak wilt treatments did not facilitate oak regeneration nor many conservation-priority species of open savanna-woodland habitats, the treatments did diversify and increase cover of native understory communities with minimal invasion of non-native plants.


Herbaceous layer; Pest; Quercus velutina; Resilience; Secondary invasion; Understory


Forest Sciences



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