Dense ponderosa pine forests in the southwestern United States inhibit understory production and diversity and are susceptible to high-severity wildfire. Restoration treatments involving overstory thinning and prescribed burning are being implemented to increase understory productivity and diversity and to reduce the risk of severe wildfire. However, disturbances associated with treatments may favor invasion of nonnative species, and the severity of the disturbance may be related to the level of nonnative species establishment. We examined understory community composition, species richness, and plant cover responses to 3 stand-scale replicates of 4 different tree-thinning intensities. Restoration treatments altered the composition of the understory community regardless of thinning intensity. Understory richness and cover were highly variable among experimental blocks, but we observed strong trends of increasing richness and cover in the treated stands. Immediately following restoration treatments, nonnative species cover comprised 6% of the total cover where treatment-induced disturbances were the greatest. However, the initial increase in nonnative species did not persist and was reduced by half 6 years after treatment. Plant community composition was still in flux by the sixth year after treatment, indicating that continued monitoring is necessary for evaluating whether restoration targets are maintained over time.
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