Forest Fragmentation and Community Structure

Forest fragmentation in Indiana has occurred primarily due to agricultural development, leaving scattered privately owned forests across the landscape. This research characterized diversity of plant communities in relation to forest fragment size, shape, isolation level, age, human influence, and connection to other forests. Rachel Fuelling (PFW graduate student), Alicia DeLeon (PFW undergraduate student), Hannah Lancaster (PFW undergraduate student), and Jordan Marshall (PFW faculty member) investigated these relationships. This work was conducted in privately owned forest fragments in Adams, Wells, and Allen Counties. Size (positively) and shape (negatively) had influence on the number of understory woody species – larger forests had more species, but irregularly shaped forests had fewer. However, diversity of the overstory species had the greatest positive influence on understory species. These forests are experiencing regeneration (seedlings establishing in the understory). Even though they are not old-growth forests, they appear to be functional second-growth forests. Since these fragments are the only forests in much of Northeastern Indiana, they need to be conserved through engagement with private landowners. Funding was provided by the Indiana Academy of Science.

Rachel Fuelling (graduate researcher) pressing plant species for herbarium record.
The (former) forest fragmentation research crew: (left to right) Maja Sljivar (field tech), Alicia DeLeon (undergrad researcher), and Rachel Fuelling (graduate researcher).