Evaluating restoration success of a 40-year-old urban forest in reference to mature natural forest.
We assessed whether forest restoration was successful in Expo '70 Commemorative Park in Osaka Prefecture, Japan, which was planted in the 1970s with native late-successional tree species. Detailed survey and analysis of species composition, stand vertical stratification, and forest dynamics, including comparison with a reference, natural late-successional forest, were conducted. The restoration plots had grown to larger basal area compared with the reference plots, however, this was a consequence of very high densities of the overstory trees due to low self-thinning rate. Stand vertical structure of the restoration plots was biased toward overstory layers, causing high mortality of understory trees and shrubs. Because there are no mature forests near the restoration site that could act as a seed source, abundance and diversity of understory trees are likely to continue decreasing in the restoration plots, resulting in single-layered forest structure similar to those of monocultures and even-aged forests. Many seedlings of exotic species emerged in the restoration plots and this could lead to a plagiosere where exotic species dominate the vegetation inhibiting regeneration and growth of native species. Ordination analysis using different measures, basal area and abundance, showed apparently contradicting results, suggesting that multiple criteria are needed to evaluate forest restoration success. Our results indicate restoration of mature, late-successional forest cannot be achieved by simultaneous planting of native species. To sustain urban forests into the future, we must conduct long-term monitoring and management referencing natural forest structure and dynamics.