Pinus palustris Mill. (longleaf pine) ecosystems support a diversity of rare plants and animals, but have been substantially degraded by historical human impacts. A suite of natural disturbances influence development and succession in P. palustris ecosystems, ranging from frequent, low-intensity events such as surface fires to infrequent, catastrophic events such as hurricanes. Like hurricanes, tornadoes may produce catastrophic winds that create canopy openings necessary for regeneration of P. palustris and other shade-intolerant species. Despite their pervasiveness in some P. palustris ecosystems, we know relatively little about the impacts of tornadoes. Our study, conducted July–August 2015 in fire-restored P. palustris stands of the Alabama Fall Line Hills, applied a nested sampling design to compare dead trees, live trees, saplings, seedlings, and herbaceous plants in plots either undisturbed or directly impacted by an Enhanced Fujita scale 3 tornado on April 27, 2011. Most wind-killed trees were uprooted or snapped, and consisted primarily of large P. palustris stems. Pinus palustris persisted, however, with increased relative densities in the tree, sapling, and seedling strata of wind-disturbed neighborhoods. The relative densities of Quercus L. (oak) trees and saplings also increased. Combined with an herbaceous stratum composition typical of other restored P. palustris stands, desirable woody species recovery indicated that the stands surveyed here were resilient to the 2011 tornado. Contrary to expectations, the tornado reduced woody stem diversity and herbaceous cover. These results may serve as a benchmark for tracking species-specific changes in P. palustris communities and guide management decisions, including those designed to promote native forest diversity.
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