Extensive areas that are currently in agricultural production within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley are being restored to bottomland hardwood forests. Oaks (Quercus sp.), sown as seeds (acorns) or planted as seedlings, are the predominant trees established on most afforested sites. To compare stand development and natural invasion on sites afforested by planting seedlings or by sowing acorns, we sampled woody vegetation on ten 14- to 18-year-old oak plantations established to provide wildlife habitat. Stem densities of about 900 oaks/ha were comparable between stands established by sowing 4000 acorns/ha and stands established by planting 900 seedlings/ha. Densities of oaks in stands established from seedlings increased 38% from densities detected when these stands were 4- to 8-year-old. Densities of oaks established from field-sown acorns increased >100% during this same 10-year span. Oaks that were planted as seedlings were larger than those established from acorns, but trees resulting from either afforestation method were larger than trees naturally colonizing these sites. Natural invasion of woody species varied greatly among afforested sites, but was greater and more diverse on sites sown with acorns. Afforested stands were dominated by planted species, whereas naturally invading species were rare among dominant canopy trees. When afforestation objectives are primarily to provide wildlife habitat, we recommend, sowing acorns rather than planting seedlings. Additionally, planting fewer seeds or seedlings, diversifying the species planted, and leaving non-planted gaps will increase diversity of woody species and promote a more complex forest structure that enhances the suitability of afforested sites for wildlife.
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Development of oak plantations established for wildlife