iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Relationships between overstory and understory structure and diversity in semi-natural mixed floodplain forests at Bosco Fontana (Italy)

Francesco Chianucci (1)   , Emma Minari (2), Most Jannatul Fardusi (1), Paolo Merlini (1), Andrea Cutini (1), Piermaria Corona (1), Franco Mason (3)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 9, Issue 6, Pages 919-926 (2016)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor1789-009
Published: Aug 21, 2016 - Copyright © 2016 SISEF

Research Articles

The “Bosco Fontana” natural reserve includes the last remaining mixed floodplain forest in northern Italy and one of the most endangered ecosystems in Europe. Its effective management is hindered by the complexity of interactions of mixed-tree species and the influence of environmental factors on understory plant diversity. In this study we analyzed the patterns of natural evolution in semi-natural floodplain forest stands at Bosco Fontana with the aim of better understanding its current natural processes and dynamics. Stand structure, taxonomic and functional diversity, species composition, and leaf area index (LAI) of overstory and understory layers were surveyed in permanent plots over two inventory years (1995, 2005). The influence of environmental factors on understory plant diversity was assessed using Ellenberg’s indices for light, soil moisture, soil nutrient and soil reaction. Results indicated that overstory species composition varies according to the soil moisture, with hornbeam prevailing in xeric sites and deciduous oak species in mesic sites. Xeric sites showed high functional dispersion in both drought and shade tolerant traits, while it was significantly lower in both overstory and understory in the moist site. Functional dispersion of drought tolerance in the overstory and understory layers was positively correlated, while species richness was negatively correlated between the two layers. Diversity in the understory was mainly correlated with soil conditions. Understory LAI was positively correlated with overstory LAI in xeric and mesic plots, while no correlations were found in the moist plot. Overall, our results suggest that site conditions (soil conditions and water availability) are the major drivers of understory and overstory dynamics in the study forest. Hence, local site conditions and the understory should be carefully considered in the management of mixed floodplain forests.


Deciduous Forests, Functional Diversity, Diversity Measure, Hemispherical Photography, Leaf Area Index

Authors’ address

Francesco Chianucci
Most Jannatul Fardusi
Paolo Merlini
Andrea Cutini
Piermaria Corona
Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e l’analisi dell’economia agraria, Forestry Research Center (CREA-SEL), Arezzo (Italy)
Emma Minari
National Forest Service, National Center for the Study and Conservation of Forest Biodiversity “Bosco Fontana” (CNBFVR), str. Mantova 29, I-46045 Marmirolo, MN (Italy)
Franco Mason
National Forest Service, National Center for Study and Conservation of Forest Biodiversity “Bosco Fontana”, National Taxonomic Laboratory for Invertebrates (CNBFVR-LANABIT), v. Tomaso Da Vico 1, I-37123 Verona (Italy)

Corresponding author

Francesco Chianucci


Chianucci F, Minari E, Fardusi MJ, Merlini P, Cutini A, Corona P, Mason F (2016). Relationships between overstory and understory structure and diversity in semi-natural mixed floodplain forests at Bosco Fontana (Italy). iForest 9: 919-926. - doi: 10.3832/ifor1789-009

Academic Editor

Gianluca Piovesan

Paper history

Received: Aug 03, 2015
Accepted: May 06, 2016

First online: Aug 21, 2016
Publication Date: Dec 14, 2016
Publication Time: 3.57 months

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