Style D 36 by 54 - Goshen College

Style D 36 by 54 - Goshen College

Community and landscape ecology of forest interiors at Merry Lea
Aradhana J. Roberts and Jonathon Schramm
Goshen College

This project explores the growth and growing conditions of
forest plants in the diverse plant communities of the Thomas,
Wysong, and Byer woodlands of Merry Lea Environmental
Learning Center (Wolf Lake, Indiana). The research conducted
was driven by the following questions:
-What plant species are found in the interior forests of Merry
-Are invasive species found in these forests, and if so, which
ones and how abundant?
-What is the relationship between tree canopy, shrub and herb
layers in these forests?

The study was conducted in the interior plots of the Thomas,
Wysong and Byer woodlands of Merry Lea Environmental
Learning Center (Wolf Lake, Indiana). Each plot was 10m in
diameter and 50m apart. The focus of the research was to
provide a description of the plant community and important
environmental variables at each plot.
Trees: species identified and diameter measured at breast
Shrubs: species identified, measured stem count and area

Vines: species identified, visual abundance observed and
counted number of trees with vine growth
Environmental Factors: canopy cover, litter depth, bearing
and slope
GIS-based Data: distance to nearest non-forest land cover,
soil series description (SSURGO USDA)

The forest plots were diverse in terms of composition and
structure. Thomas was different in terms of species richness
as it had the least number of species in the shrub and herb
layers with an average of one and nine species per plot
respectively. Interestingly, Thomas also had the highest
number tree species with an average of four species per plot.
The largest and most abundant tree species observed in
Thomas was the American Hophornbeam. Wysong was
observed to have the largest trees in diameter and the most
herb and shrub cover, probably due to its richer soil content.
(Table 1) Byer has the highest species richness in the shrub
and herb layer, containing an average of three and thirteen
Forestper plot,
Shrub Mean Herb Mean Tree

Cover (m2)

Cover (%)


Deep litter

DBH (in)



Fig 4. Ordination describing the similarity of plots according to
herb cover and environmental factors.

Table 1. Mean growth of shrub, herb and tree size in the
High levels of plant invasion were observed at the edge of each
forest, in contrast to the forest interiors which were not affected
as much. The interior invasion was limited to four species: garlic
mustard, burning bush, multiflora rose and autumn olive.
Invasion was also related to disturbance factors such as deer
trails, fallen trees and trash. Specifically in Byer as disturbance of
fallen trees and deer trials increased the percent cover of garlic
mustard increased.
A positive correlation was observed with tree size and higher
shrub cover; larger trees often accompanied larger shrubs such
as prickly ash. (Fig 3)

The current topographic landscape of Indiana (IN) has
been shaped by its glacial history. The landscape, in
turn, shapes historical and current land uses which
affects the composition of plant species in their
natural communities (Kuhman, 2010).

T- Thomas
W- Wysong
B- Byer

Fig 1. Map of the plot locations at Thomas (left upper),
Wysong (left lower) and Byer (right) Woodlands.

Tree Size vs. Shrub and Herb Growth

The dynamic and complex forests included in this
project contain high levels of species and habitat
variability and warrant further study.




R = 0.27

R = 0.01









Average tree diameter at breast height (DBH in)


Fig 3. Relationship of tree size to shrub and herb growth: tree
size has little effect on herb cover but is positively correlated
to a higher density of shrubs.

Non-native plants are species introduced with human
assistance to a new landscape (Walker & Bellingham
Invasive species are an alien plant spreading
naturally [without further human assistance] and
producing a significant change in terms of
composition, structure and ecosystem process (Cronk
& Fuller 2001). For example:

Autumn olive is found in disturbed areas and has

This study provides information about interior forest plant
composition and species interactions as well as a greater
understanding of the connections between diverse species and
environmental factors.
The ordination shows that the environmental factors of canopy
cover, litter depth and soil type influence the plant community in
the forest. This is true especially for soil type, which is a major
underlying factor in plant growth. It was also observed that
larger shrubs correlated with larger trees, where as herb cover
has no relationship with tree size. Invasive species such as garlic
mustard and multiflora rose were observed both along the edges
and in the interior of the forest. Interestingly, however, there was
significantly less invasion in the interior of the forest compared
to what was observed at the edges. Higher growth rate of
invasive species were observed where disturbances such as deer
trails, trash and fallen trees were present. These conclusions
may be useful in making recommendations for various
management practices, including those related to invasive


In IN, the total number of native plants reaches to
over 2300 species and around 550 non-native
species (INPAWS, 2013).

Glossy buckthorn occurs in wetlands, taking over
the understory and eliminating native plant



Native species are those present before Modern
European arrival.

Drier Soil

Herbs: species identified and visual area observed in four 1m


Dense Canopy

The forests overall were diverse both in plant species and
abundance. There were significant disturbances in the forests
such as deer trails, trash and fallen trees which affected
plant growth and presence of invasive species.
Plots 10m in diameter and 50m apart were observed in the
interior of each of the three woodlands. The identification of
the trees, shrubs, herbs and vines were recorded. Taking the
environmental conditions of canopy cover, litter depth, soil
type and adjacent land use into consideration, the plots were
categorized according to species similarity. It was observed
that tree size does not affect the herb community, but larger
shrubs correlate with larger trees. Invasive speciessuch as
garlic mustard and multiflora rose--were observed to be less
prevalent in the interior of the plots compared to what was
observed around the edges.
The conclusions of this project may be useful in making
recommendations for various management practices,
including those related to invasive plants.

Materials and Methods

A v e ra g e h e rb /s h ru b c o v e r (% )


Fig 2. Typical plot structure of Thomas (left) and Wysong

The ordination graph (Fig 4) illustrates the similarities between
the different plots according to the herbaceous species present.
Plots close together in the ordination graph have more similarity
in their herbaceous community than plots located farther apart.
The environmental factors correlating to the similarity of the
plots include canopy cover, litter depth, soil type and adjacent
land use type. Interestingly, Wysong has rich muck soil allowing
growth of larger trees and more herbs and shrubs compared to
Byer, which has a majority of drier upland soils.

Fig 5. Illustration of the Byer woodland understory growth
and a raccoon visiting the plot.

Cronk, Q., & Fuller, J. (2001). Plant invaders: the threat to natural ecosystems.
Chapman and Hall.
INPAWS. (2013). Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society: Biodiversity.
Retrieved from
Kuhman, T. R. (2010). Effects of land-use history and the contemporary
landscape on non-native plant invasion at local and regional scales in the
forest-dominated southern Appalachians. Landscape Ecology, 25, 1433-1455.
Walker, L. R., & Bellingham, P. (2011). Island environments in a changing world.
Cambridge University Press.

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