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Data from: Annual understory plant recovery dynamics in a temperate woodland mosaic during a decade of ecological restoration

Cite this dataset

Reid, J. Leighton et al. (2020). Data from: Annual understory plant recovery dynamics in a temperate woodland mosaic during a decade of ecological restoration [Dataset]. Dryad.


Temperate woodlands are one of the world’s ecosystems in greatest need of ecological restoration, but relatively little is known about their floristic recovery dynamics over decadal timescales. From 2000 to 2012, we monitored understory plant communities in a woodland mosaic in Missouri, USA, as it underwent restoration via prescribed, dormant-season burning and mechanical thinning of red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and exotic shrubs. Native species richness increased linearly by 36% over this time period, driven primarily by an influx of forb species in thin-soiled upland areas where red cedar was removed. Floristic quality also increased with differential dynamics across local communities; forest floristic quality saturated quickly whereas floristic quality increased gradually over the time series in woodlands and red cedar–dominated woodlands. Species that underlay these patterns were mainly ruderal or matrix forbs and grasses with little dependence on intact, undisturbed habitats. In contrast, conservative species were rare or absent. This case study suggests that understory plant recovery dynamics may be slower in harsher and more degraded sites and faster in more mesic sites within a woodland mosaic. Our observations set a benchmark for woodland understory plant recovery dynamics and indicate that a future restoration challenge is to prioritize the managed translocation of dispersal-limited, conservative species.


To monitor the influence of restoration activities on herbaceous vegetation, 30 permanent 50-m transects were established in 2000, one year prior to the first prescribed burn. Transects were selected by placing a grid over a topographical map and choosing grid coordinates from a random number table. Transects were evenly distributed among three identifiable plant communities: an upland community dominated by white oak (Quercus alba), a mesic slope community dominated by northern red oak (Q. rubra), paw paw (Asimina triloba), and spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and an invaded community dominated by eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Transects were separated by =5 m and were selected to maximize elevational gradient. Slope and aspect were uncontrolled. Vegetation was sampled in three strata: ground layer (<0.5 m height), shrub layer (0.5-3 m), and canopy. Ground and shrub layer plant abundance and cover were sampled twice per year (Apr, Jun) in five nested quadrats along each transect. Ground layer quadrats were 0.5 sq-m, and shrub quadrats were 1 sq-m in Apr and 2 sq-m in Jun. Quadrats were offset by five meters between seasons to reduce impact on the vegetation. Herbaceous and shrub layer sampling were conducted in all years 2000-2012 except 2006, when there was little vegetation due to restoration activities. Canopy composition and diameters at breast height were sampled along each transect using a crown line-intercept technique (Cox 1980). Canopy sampling was conducted in 2000, 2004, 2007, and 2012. Following prescribed fires, the percentage of each transect that had burned was also estimated. Plants were initially identified using Steyermark (1963), and taxonomy was subsequently updated to Yatskievych (1999, 2006, 2013). Voucher specimens were deposited at Missouri Botanical Garden. In 2016, Olivia Hajek (a Research Experience Undergraduate) collected environmental data for each quadrat. She measured elevation using a Garmin GPSmap. She measured aspect using a compass. She measured slope using a clinometer; slope was measured over a 3-m distance centered on the quadrat. To calculate a relative radiation index (RRI), we used the formula RRI = cos (180° – O) x sin ß x sin ' + cos ß x cos ', where O = aspect, ß = slope, and ' = latitude (Maren et al. 2015). Canopy cover was estimated using a spherical densiometer. The percent of exposed rock in each quadrat was also recorded based on subjective evaluation on a rank-transformed scale with 0=0% cover, 1=0-5%, 2=5-25%, 3=25-50%, 4=50-75%, 5=75-95%, and 6=95-100%. Burned or cut Juniper stumps were counted within a 2.5-m radius centered on each herb quadrat. 

Usage notes

Data collector(s): Nels Holmberg, Olivia Hajek

Date of data collection: April-July 2000-2012, June-July 2016 (SNR_Nels_Environment.csv)

Where collected: Dana Brown Woods Management Unit, Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, Missouri, USA

Person to contact with questions: Nels Holmberg ( or Leighton Reid (

Data entry

Software (including version #) used to prepare data set: Microsoft Excel 2007, R version 3.2.4

Data processing that was performed: Data were proofed for transcription errors. Plant classifications were changed to match
Yatskievych (1999, 2006, 2013). Data from 2000 were excluded due to incomplete sampling, except for SNR_Nels_Canopy.csv.
For SNR_Nels_Canopy.csv, canopy cover for R6 in 2000 is excluded because it is not equivalent to other years. On 2017-10-09,
JLR fixed some problems with shrub data identified by NH, and JLR also removed duplicate rows (>600).

Person/people who entered data: Christian Schwarz

Person/people who proofed data: Leighton Reid, Nels Holmberg

Person to contact with questions: Leighton Reid (

ABP = Plant species Annual (A), Biennial (B), or Perennial (P) [Factor]
ACRON = Plant species acronym [Factor]
Asp = Aspect (degrees from N) [Numeric]
Burn = Estimated percentage of each transect burned during prescribed fires [Numeric]
C = Coefficient of conservatism [Integer]; 99 = Adventive species
C34 = Photosynthetic system for grasses [Factor]. Sources: Baskin et al. (1995), Campbell (2004), Smith & Wu (1994), Towne (2002), Waller & Lewis (1979)
Cancov = Canopy cover (percent) [Numeric]
Cov = Percent Cover [Numeric]
D = Day [Integer]
DBH = Diameter at breast height (cm)[Numeric]
Elev = Elevation (m) above mean sea level [Numeric]
End = Last month of spore or pollen production [Integer]. Source: Yatskievych (1999, 2006, 2013)
Family = Plant family [Factor]
Genus = Plant genus [Factor]
H = Habitat [Factor] "J" = Juniper; "R" = Red oak; "W" = White oak
Int = Intercept or distance in meters along transect occupied by canopy cover of a given species [Numeric]
Jstump = Juniper stump density [Integer]
L = Layer [Factor] "H" = Herbaceous; "S" = Shrub
M = Month [Integer]
MO = Plant species wetness category [Factor]
Notes = Additional text clarifying data [Character]
NT = Plant species Native (Nt) or Adventive (Ad) [Factor]
PHYS = Plant species physiognamy [Factor]
Q = Quadrat [Integer] This is equivalent to the length (m) from the start of the transect
Rocks = Index of soil rockiness - see methods [Integer]
RRI = Relative radiation index - see methods [Numeric]
Ses = Season [Factor] "Sp" = Spring = April/May. "Su" = Summer = June/July
Slp = Slope measured in degrees over 3 m centered on the herb quadrat [Numeric]
Source = Plant species information source [Factor]. LT = Ladd & Thomas (2015). NH = Nels Holmberg expert opinion.
Species = Plant species [Factor]
Start = First month of spore or pollen production [Integer]. Source: Yatskievych (1999, 2006, 2013)
Stems = Number of stems [Integer]
T = Transect [Factor]
Y = Year [Integer]

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Yatskievych, G.A. 2013. Steyermark's Flora of Missouri, revised edition. Missouri Botanical Garden Press with Missouri Department
 of Conservation, Saint Louis, Missouri.


Missouri Botanical Garden

Shaw Nature Reserve

National Science Foundation, Award: 1559962