Changes in forest structure drive temperature preferences of boreal understorey plant communities

The local climate in forest understories can deviate substantially from ambient conditions. Moreover, forest microclimates are often characterized by cyclic changes driven by management activities such as clear-cutting and subsequent planting. To understand how and why understorey plant communities change, both ambient climate change and temporal variation in forest structure have to be considered. We used inventories from 11,436 productive forest sites in Sweden repeated every 10th year 1993-2017 to examine how variation in forest structure influences changes in the average value of minimum and maximum temperature preferences of all species in a community, that is, community temperature indices (CTIs). We then evaluated to what extent these changes were driven by local extinctions and colonizations, respectively, and to what extent the difference in CTI value between two inventories was related to changes in forest density and in macroclimate. Lastly, we tested whether effects on CTI change by these two drivers were modified by topography, soil moisture and tree species composition. CTI values of the understorey plant communities increased after clear-cutting, and decreased during periods when the forest grew denser. During the period immediately after clear-cutting, changes were predominately driven by colonizations of species with a preference for higher temperatures. During the forest regeneration phase, both colonizations by species preferring lower temperatures and local extinctions of species preferring higher temperatures increased. The change in understorey CTI over 10-year periods was explained more by changes in forest density, than by changes in macroclimate. Soil moisture, topography and forest tree species composition modified to some extent the effects of changes in forest density and in macroclimate on understorey CTI values. Synthesis. Via stand manipulation, forest management impacts the effects of regional climate on understorey plant communities. This implies that forest management by creating denser stands locally even can counterbalance the effects of regional changes in climate. Consequently, interpretations of changes in the mean temperature preference of species in forest understorey communities should take forest management regimes into account.