The conversion of agricultural lands to forests has increased worldwide over the past few decades for multiple reasons including increasing forest connectivity and wildlife habitat. However, previous land cover and competing vegetation often impede afforestation. We established 219 plots in 29 Quercus plantations on four previous land cover types (LCT): Clover, Soybeans, Woody Brush, and Herbaceous Weeds. Plantations were located in Illinois, USA and were sampled 15-18 years after planting. Sampling data for all trees (planted and volunteer) included species, diameter, and vine presence on the main bole of the tree. Free-to-grow status was recorded for all Quercus species and estimated cover of two invasive species, Elaeagnus umbellata and Lonicera japonica, was documented on each plot. There was a strong relationship between total tree density and invasive species cover across all sites. Stocking success was lower and E. umbellata cover was higher on Woody Brush sites compared to Clover and Soybean cover types. Additionally, significantly more free-to-grow Quercus saplings occurred in Clover and Soybean cover types compared to the Woody Brush sites. The results indicate that previous land cover plays a critical role in forest afforestation. Furthermore, while historically, volunteer tree species were thought to be detrimental to the development of planted species these results suggest that with the increasing prevalence of invasive species worldwide the role of volunteer species in afforestation should be reconsidered and silvicultural protocols adjusted accordingly.
Nickelson, J. B., Holzmueller, E. J., Groninger, J. W., & Lesmeister, D. B. (2015). Previous land use and invasive species impacts on long-term afforestation success. Forests, 6(9), 3123–3135. https://doi.org/10.3390/f6093123