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UF Researchers identify structural diversity hot spots in the southern United States

A new study from the University of Florida identifies structural diversity hot spots of the longleaf pine ecosystem in the southern US 

Structural diversity of the longleaf pine ecosystem

The Longleaf pine ecosystem is the most diverse ecosystem of North America. Although much is known about species diversity of these forests, this study is the first to describe structural diversity of these important ecosystems across their range in the southern US,” stated Dr. Ajay Sharma. Dr. Sharma, an assistant professor with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation is located at the West Florida Research and Education Center in Milton, FL, and coauthored the study with Natural Resource Conservation undergraduate student, Barbara Cory. The study was published in Elsevier’s Forest Ecology and Management this week.  

Structural diversity is an important attribute of forest ecosystems and is related to ecosystem stability, resilience and health, as well as productivity” Sharma explained. “While across the southern USthe longleaf pine ecosystem exhibited variable and heterogeneous distribution of structural diversity, we found that hot spots for structural diversity were in southeastern Mississippi and central AlabamaSouthcentral Georgia exhibited the least structural diversity.” 

Longleaf pine forests historically occupied nearly 100 million acres as a previously dominant forest type in the southern US. Unfortunately, these forests have now been reduced to about 4% of their historic extent. Conservation of these ecosystems has now become one of the major land management goals in the southern US 

Understanding which factors affect forest structural diversity of the forest and identifying areas of low or high diversity is critical information for range-wide conservation and restoration planning for longleaf pine ecosystems said Cory.

Structural diversity depends on several factors. Management operations, forest burning, growing conditions and even forest ownership can affect the structural diversity of a forest.  

Interestinglythe hot spots of structural diversity are concentrated on publicly-owned lands,” Sharma noted. “This emphasizes the importance and relevance of public lands to restoring and conserving this unique ecosystem.