Twenty Years of Urban Reforestation: Overstory Development Structures Understory Plant Communities in Lexington, KY, USA

Kenton L. Sena, Zachary J. Hackworth, Julia Maugans, John M. Lhotka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urban forests provide critical ecosystem services in an increasingly urbanized global landscape. The reforestation of undeveloped parcels and serially mowed grasslands can increase urban forest cover, but plant community development in planted urban forests is poorly understood. We conducted a study to elucidate the roles of time since tree planting, invasive species abundance, and other abiotic and biotic site-level factors in structuring understory plant communities within a 20-year chronosequence of planted urban forests in Lexington, KY, USA. We assessed the percent of groundcover of all understory species in fixed-radius plots on the site. Understory herbaceous plant communities demonstrated shifts from graminoid dominance to forb dominance over time, and plant communities in successively younger sites were increasingly dissimilar from that of the 20-year-old site. Invasive plant species were abundant, representing 21% of total groundcover across all surveyed plots, and became increasingly prevalent over time. Understory plant diversity was negatively associated with invasive species abundance. Overall, site factors, including time since planting, forest canopy closure, density of tree and shrub reproduction, and soil pH, accounted for much of the variability among understory communities. Understory plant communities across the chronosequence of planted sites demonstrated apparent structural shifts with overstory canopy development, but the increasing prevalence of invasive species and their negative impacts to plant diversity warrant future management to ensure the continuation of the desired successional trajectories.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1985
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • afforestation
  • forest succession
  • reforestation
  • rewilding
  • urban parks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Building and Construction
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Twenty Years of Urban Reforestation: Overstory Development Structures Understory Plant Communities in Lexington, KY, USA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this