Understory plant diversity and composition across a postfire tree density gradient in a Siberian arctic boreal forest

Alison K. Paulson, Homero Peña, Heather D. Alexander, Sergei P. Davydov, Michael M. Loranty, Michelle C. Mack, Susan M. Natali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Cajander larch (Larix cajanderi Mayr.) forests of the Siberian Arctic are experiencing increased wildfire activity in conjunction with climate warming. These shifts could affect postfire variation in the density and arrangement of trees and understory plant communities. To better understand how understory plant composition, abundance, and diversity vary with tree density, we surveyed understory plant communities and stand characteristics (e.g., canopy cover, active layer depth, and soil organic layer depth) within 25 stands representing a density gradient of similarly-aged larch trees that established following a 1940 fire near Cherskiy, Russia. Understory plant diversity and mean total plant abundance decreased with increased canopy cover. Canopy cover was also the most important variable affecting individual species’ abundances. In general, tall shrubs (e.g., Betula nana subsp. exilis) were more abundant in low-density stands with high light availability, and mosses (e.g., Sanionia spp.) were more abundant in high-density stands with low light availability. These results provide evidence that postfire variation in tree recruitment affects understory plant community composition and diversity as stands mature. Therefore, projected increases in wildfire activity in the Siberian Arctic could have cascading impacts on forest structure and composition in both overstory and understory plant communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)720-731
Number of pages12
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


  • Betula nana subsp. exilis
  • Cajander larch
  • Disturbance
  • Larix cajanderi
  • Wildfire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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