Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Albert J. Meier (Director), Dr. Michael K. Stokes, Dr. John M. Andersland

Degree Program

Department of Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science


Herbaceous communities are critical to the functioning of forest ecosystems. They recycle nutrients, help prevent erosion, provide critical microhabitats and maintain biodiversity. In the eastern United States, most hardwood forests are growing on land once entirely cleared or used for some form of agriculture. Although some of these forests are nearly 150 years old, they still have depauperate native herbaceous communities when compared to remaining old-growth forests. This long-term depletion may result from dispersal limitation or environmental limitation.

I tested the hypothesis that dispersal was the primary factor contributing to the absence of five spring-flowering herbaceous species in four secondary mesic hardwood forests. I transplanted adults and sowed fresh propagules into chosen forests. By establishing negative controls, I showed that propagules of experimental species were not incidentally dispersed and would not have been present at the sites had I not introduced them. In all four sites, seeds of three ant-dispersed species germinated and adults of these species survived, flowered and self-sowed viable propagules. These results strongly indicated dispersal limitation in all sites. Another ant-dispersed species showed evidence of being dispersal-limited in at least two sites. The limitations of one gravity-dispersed species were unclear. I discuss results from the first year after transplanting and offer management suggestions to facilitate the return of these species to degraded forests.


Forest Biology | Plant Biology | Plant Breeding and Genetics | Plant Sciences