Variation in soil and forest floor characteristics along gradients of ericaceous, evergreen shrub cover in the southern Appalachians
Ericaceous shrubs can influence soil properties in many ecosystems. In this study, we examined how soil and forest floor properties vary among sites with different ericaceous evergreen shrub basal area in the southern Appalachian mountains. We randomly located plots along transects that included open understories and understories with varying amounts of Rhododendron maximum (rosebay rhododendron) and Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) at three sites. The three sites were a mid-elevation ridge, a low-elevation cove, and a high-elevation southwest-facing slope. Basal area of R. maximum was more correlated with soil properties of the forest floor than was K. latifolia. Increasing R. maximum basal area was correlated with increasing mass of lower quality litter and humus as indicated by higher C N ratios. Moreover, this correlation supports our prediction that understory evergreen shrubs may have considerable effect on forest floor resource heterogeneity in mature stands.