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    Tropical storms, fire, and urbanization have produced a heavily fragmented forested landscape along Florida’s Gulf coast. The longleaf pine forest, one of the most threatened ecosystems in the US, makes up a major part of this fragmented landscape. These three disturbance regimes have produced a mosaic of differently-aged pine patches of single or two cohort structures along this coastline. The major focus of our study was to determine reference ecosystem conditions by assessing the soil biochemical properties, overstory stand structure, and understory plant species richness along a patch-derived 110-year chronosequence in order to accurately evaluate on-going longleaf pine restoration projects. This ecological dataset was also used to classify each reference patch as mesic flatwoods, wet flatwoods, or wet savanna. All of the reference locations were found to have similar soil types with no significant differences in their soil biogeochemistry. Mean diameter-at-breast height (DBH), tree height, and patch basal area increased as mean patch age increased. Stand growth reached a plateau around 80 - 90 years. Shrub cover was significantly higher in the mature-aged patches (86 - 110 years) than in the young (6 - 10 years) or mid-aged (17 - 52 years) patches, despite prescribed fire. Plant species diversity as indicated by the Shannon-Wiener index decreased with patch age. Soil biogeochemical properties, forest structure, and understory species composition were effective for ecologically classifying our pine patches as 55% mesic flatwoods, 20% wet flatwoods, and 25% wet savanna. Florida's Gulf coastal wet longleaf pine flatwoods attain a structural and plant species equilibrium between 80 - 90 years.

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    McCaskill, George L.; Shibu, Jose. 2012. The ecological classification of coastal wet longleaf pine (pinus palustris) of Florida from reference conditions. American Journal of Plant Sciences. 3(9): 1205-1218. DOI: 10.4236/ajps.2012.39146


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    Forest Structure, Species Richness, Restoration, Pine Patches, Shannon-Wiener, Soil Biogeochemistry

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