Effect of invasive Rhododendron ponticum L. on natural regeneration and structure of Fagus orientalis Lipsky forests in the Black Sea Region.
Biological invasions threaten global biodiversity and forest ecosystems; therefore, it is necessary to use appropriate strategies for combating the spread of invasive species. Natural regeneration of eastern beech (Fagus orientalis Lipsky) is considerably limited by an aggressive invasive shrub, pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum L.), in the Black Sea Region of Turkey. Therefore, the future character of the region's forests is uncertain. The aim of this research was to evaluate the structure of beech forests with different management regimes of rhododedron and to determine the interaction among tree layer, rhododendron cover, and natural regeneration in Düzce Province using the FieldMap technology. The following variants of forests were compared: without intervention (control) and three and six years after rhododendron clearance. The results showed that tree density ranged between 175-381 trees ha-1 and stand volume between 331-589 m3 ha-1. The horizontal structure of the tree layer was mostly random, and the spatial pattern of natural regeneration was aggregated. Recruit density and height in the beech stands were significantly differentiated due to the influence of presence or absence of invasive rhododendron. Rhododendron cover ranged between 81%-97%, and woody stems amounted to 72,178-86,884 ha-1 in unmanaged forests. Canopy in the overstory did not have a significant effect on the density of regeneration and rhododendron cover. Tree layer had a significant negative influence on natural regeneration within a 4 m radius on the plots without rhododendron. However, on the plots with dense rhododendron cover, tree layer had a positive influence on regeneration within a 1.5 m radius. Natural regeneration density was significantly higher when rhododendron was cleared than the plots without intervention. On the plots without woody clearance, there was an insufficient regeneration (113-619 recruits ha-1); however, they had higher mean height compared to the sites without rhododendron. After three and six years of rhododendron clearance, the numbers of recruits in natural regeneration were 63,981 ha-1 and 105,075 ha-1, respectively. In conclusion, invasive spread of rhododendron was a limiting factor of the prosperous regeneration and tree species diversity, and manual clearance of rhododendron is recommended in managed beech forests of the study region.