Historical influences on the vegetation and soils of the Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts coastal sandplain: Implications for conservation and restoration

TitleHistorical influences on the vegetation and soils of the Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts coastal sandplain: Implications for conservation and restoration
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsNeill, Christopher, Von Holle Betsy, Kleese Katherine, Ivy Kristin D., Colllins Alexandra R., Treat Claire, and Dean Mary
JournalBiological Conservation
Pagination17 - 32
Date Published4/2007
Keywordsexotic species, land use history, New England, sandplain grassland, sandplain shrubland

Both disturbance history and previous land use influence present-day vegetation and soils. These influences can have important implications for conservation of plant communities if former disturbance and land use change species abundances, increase colonization of nonnative plant species or if they alter soil characteristics in ways that make them less suitable for species of conservation interest. We compared the plant species composition, the proportion of native and normative plant species, and soil biogeochemical characteristics across seven dominant land use and vegetation cover types on the outwash sandplain of Martha’s Vineyard that differed in previous soil tillage, dominant overstory vegetation and history of recent prescribed fire. The outwash sandplain supports many native plant species adapted to dry, low nutrient conditions and maintenance of native species is a management concern. There was broad overlap in the plant species composition among pine (Pinus resinosa, P. strobus) plantations on untilled soils, pine plantations on formerly tilled soils, scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia) shrublands, tree oak (Q. velutina, Q. alba) woodlands, burned tree oak woodlands, and sandplain grasslands. All of these land cover categories contained few nonnative species. In contrast, agricultural grasslands had high richness and cover of normative plants. Soil characteristics were also similar among all of the woodland, shrubland and grassland land cover categories, but soils in agricultural grasslands had higher pH, extractable Ca2+ and Mg2+ in mineral soils and higher rates of net nitrification. The similarity of soils and significant overlap in vegetation across pine plantations, scrub oak shrublands, oak woodlands and sandplain grasslands suggests that the history of land use, current vegetation and soil characteristics do not pose a major barrier to management strategies that would involve conversion among any of these vegetation types. The current presence of high cover of normative species and nutrient-enriched soils in agricultural grasslands, however, may pose a barrier to expansion of sandplain grasslands or shrublands on these former agricultural lands if native species are not able to outcompete normative species in these anthropogenically-enriched sites. (C) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.