Study on the diagnosis of disturbed forest ecosystem in the Republic of Korea: in case of Daegwallyeong and Chupungryeong
© The Author(s) 2017
Received: 27 October 2016
Accepted: 11 June 2017
Published: 12 July 2017
Baekdudaegan was designated in 2005 as a protected area to prevent destruction and conserve. However, there are many disturbed and destroyed areas. The total disturbed area amounts to 25.9 km2 (0.94%), including 13.4 km2 (0.49%) in the core area and 12.5 km2 (0.45%) in the buffer area. This study aims to classify the vegetation types established in the disturbed areas and diagnose the current conditions for ecological restoration in the forest ecosystem.
We surveyed the vegetation in the disturbed areas of Daegwallyeong and Chupungryeong and the surrounding natural areas. The survey conducted from July to September 2015 targeted a total of 54 quadrats by Braun-Blanquet method (Daegwallyeong, 22; Chupungryeong, 32). We also investigated the height and coverage of each layer. We classified the vegetation types based on the field data and analyzed the ratio of life form and the exotic plants, species richness, and vegetation index (Hcl). The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) was calculated from rapideye satellite imagery in 2014 and 2015.
Vegetation types were classified into 11 groups according to the criteria that included successional sere or plantation at first, followed by developmental stage and origins. As a result of the analysis of the survey data, species richness, vegetation index (Hcl), ratio of tree plants, and the NDVI tended to increase, while the ratio of the exotic plants tended to decrease with the time since disturbance. These indicators had the classified values according to the vegetation types with time since the disturbance.
These indicators can be effectively used to diagnose the conditions of the present vegetation in the disturbed area of the Baekdudaegan area. In addition, the NDVI might be effective for the diagnosis of the disturbed status instead of the human efforts based on the higher spatial resolution of satellite imagery. Appropriate diagnosis of the disturbed forests in the Baekdudaegan area considering the established vegetation types is essential for the elaboration of restoration plans. In addition, restoration target and level should be different according to the disturbed status of restoration site.
According to the Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group (2004), ecological restoration is practiced to assist the recovery of a degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystem, which is the most commonly used definition worldwide. For the successful ecological restoration, survey and analysis of a restoration site are essential. After the obvious diagnosis of the degraded site, it is possible to set up a clear target, goals, and objectives (Rieger et al. 2014).
Baekdudaegan refers to the mountain ranges linked from Mt. Baekdu in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to Mt. Jiri in the Republic of Korea. This notion was firstly used by Doseon, a monk in the Goryeo dynasty. Afterwards, it was systematized and concretized through several documents, such as Taekriji by Jung Hwan Lee, Seonghosaseol by Ik Lee, and Sangyeongpyo by Gyeong Jun Shin in the Choseon dynasty (Lee and Kwon 2002).
The Baekdudaegan protected area was designated and notified by the Korea Forest Service in 2005 as one of the core ecological axes in the Republic of Korea. The purposes of designation are to prevent undiscerning destruction of the environment and conserve the natural environment (National Law Information Center 2015). It includes five provinces, six cities, and five counties. The total area increased from 263,427 ha in 2005 to 275,646 ha in 2016 (Korea Forest Service 2016). Baekdudaegan is one of the three main axes of Korean Peninsula along with the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the coastal belt (AKECU 2010). It plays the important roles as biodiversity hotspots and ecological corridors of wildlife species (Korea Forest Service 2008).
In spite of the status of the protected area, there are many disturbed areas. The total damaged area amounts to 25.9 km2 (0.94%), including 13.4 km2 (0.49%) in the core area and 12.5 km2 (0.45%) in the buffer area (National Institute of Ecology 2015). Several studies addressed the damaged status (Cho 2012; Choi et al. 2014; Kwon and Lee 2003; Kwon et al. 2004; Lee et al. 2007a; Oh and Lee 2003) and restoration (Ahn et al. 2009; Daegu Gyeongbuk Development Institute 2008; Kim et al. 2008). These studies were mostly subjected to survey on the trial deterioration and studies on the diagnosis of the vegetation after disturbance or degradation are rare.
Several studies on the diagnosis using several indicators have been conducted in South Korea. For instance, Myung et al. (2002) diagnosed the stream vegetation through the diversity of plant community, exotic plant species, actual vegetation map, and vegetation profiles. Similarly, Kim (2009) developed the index consisting of vegetation diversity (the number of plant communities), ratio of exotic and annual plant species, vegetation profiles, and species richness (the number of plant species). Furthermore, Nam (2015) studied species diversity, ratio of exotic plant and annual plant species, and vegetation. These studies were usually performed in the streams or rivers, but rarely addressed a forest ecosystem. Meanwhile, the first attempt to suggest a restoration practice according to the restoration level based on the damage degree from air pollution in South Korea was made by Kim et al. (2015) who selected vegetation types and damage degree as indicators.
This study aims to classify the vegetation types established in the disturbed areas and diagnose the current conditions for making use of ecological restoration after disturbances in the forest ecosystem.
Restoration attempts to return an ecosystem to the original state (Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group 2004) and the power of an ecosystem to do so is called resilience (Connell and Slatyer 1977; Greipsson 2011). Vegetation starts to recover naturally when the anthropogenic disturbances ceased or are neglected (Egler 1952). The main disturbance types were pastures in Daegwallyeong and fields in Chupungryeong (National Institute of Ecology 2015). In Daegwallyeong, Samyang pasture was developed from 1972 around 850~1400 m above the sea level (Noh et al. 2013). In addition, the wind power generators have been recently set up after the intact forests in this area were destroyed. Meanwhile, the main disturbance type was the fields in Chupungryeong (National Institute of Ecology 2015). Mostly, the fields that were far from the cities or difficult to access showed the tendency to be abandoned. Reduced agricultural activities resulted in forest recovery.
In this study, we surveyed the vegetation in the following five disturbance types that are abandoned or neglected: quarry, fields, paddy fields, and pastures, and plantations. We did not include the sites which are now in use after disturbances. In addition, the reason why we included the plantations is the positive effects of their ecological restoration reported in previous studies (Kim et al. 2013a; Lee et al. 2004a; Shin 2005).
We investigated the vegetation survey using the Braun-Blanquet method (Braun-Blanquet 1964) in the disturbed area and surrounding natural area as a reference. The vegetation survey conducted from July to September 2015 targeted a total of 54 quadrats, including 22 quadrats in Daegwallyeong and 32 quadrats in Chupungryeong. The quadrant size was 2 m × 2 m dominated by herbs, 5 m × 5 m dominated by shrubs, and 10 m × 10 m or 15 m × 15 m dominated by trees. We also investigated the height and coverage of herb, shrub, subtree, and tree layers.
All plant species that appeared in each plot were identified by Lee (2014) and exotic plant species were identified by Park (2009) and Lee et al. (2011). Unidentified plants in the fields were collected and identified in the laboratory.
The differences of vegetation index among vegetation types were tested with one-way ANOVA (SPSS, version 20.0).
The value of NDVI ranged from −1 to 1, theoretically. The areas not covered with vegetation have the value close to 0. Meanwhile, the areas that are well developed with vegetation have the value close to 1 (Norman et al. 2014). Relative values to the highest value of the NDVI were compared.
Categorization of the vegetation types into 11 groups based on the field data
No. of plots
Indigenous (Q. serrata)
Indigenous (Q. acutissima)
Vegetation index (Hcl), which was calculated by the mean coverage and height of tree, subtree, shrub, and herb layers, was high in the natural areas, and the values of P2 and H3 were similar to the corresponding values in the natural areas. However, the mean of P2 and H3 was still far from that of the natural area (see Fig. 4). A division of stratification through the value of mean and the distribution range of Hcl were clearly observed.
Results of one-way ANOVA for vegetation index calculated from the vegetation coverage and height
An ecological restoration project involves several developmental processes, such as planning, design, implementation, and aftercare. Each step includes major actions, such as an initiate project, site analysis, SWOT-C, refined goals and objectives, project scope, concept design, project plans, installation, monitoring, remediation, project close-out, and projects added to the ongoing program (Rieger et al. 2014). It is a cost-effective way based on the site analysis and diagnosis evaluation to improve restoration effects (Lee et al. 2005; Lee et al. 2007b).
Meanwhile, the vegetation index (Hcl) was developed to estimate the vegetation developmental processes in the area severely disturbed by fire. It well explained the development of vegetation stratification. It was proved that the vegetation index showed a high correlation with the time since fire disturbance (Lee et al. 2004b). Processes and speed of the vegetation development after disturbance might vary according to the disturbance types and location conditions. However, most disturbed areas are under the vegetation development immediately after the disturbances ceased (Egler 1952). Therefore, the vegetation index is an effective indicator for confirming the vegetation developmental processes, as it is calculated by the height and coverage of each layer. We confirmed that the vegetation index showed the low values in the early developmental stage with herb layers (X1, X2, and H1) ranging from 0.5 to 2.1. That of the later developmental stage with subtree or tree layers (H3 and P2) showed higher values ranging from 5.6 to 22.3. These results are similar trend with those reported by Lee et al. (2004b). Therefore, studies on the quantification of the vegetation index and analyzing its correlation with the time since disturbance are needed in the future.
The NDVI has been shown to be the most effective index to quickly and simply identify the vegetated area and its condition (Agone and Bhamare 2012). It has been widely used to monitor vegetation (Benedetti and Rossini 1993; Kinyanjui 2011; Meneses-Tovar 2011; Wessels 2005) and to find the historical information of vegetation cover changes (Peters et al. 2002). Very low values of NDVI (0.1 and below) were observed in the barren areas, such as rocks, sand, or snow, while moderate values (0.2 to 0.3) were observed in shrub and grassland areas. In addition, high values (0.6 to 0.8) correspond to temperate and tropical rain forests (Weier and Herring 2000). Therefore, there is a correlation between vegetation types and various sites (Meneses-Tovar 2011). In fact, field survey is the most accurate way to identify the disturbed status. However, it is difficult to cover broad areas, because this approach is time-consuming, expensive, and requires more people who can conduct the field survey (Alshaikh 2015). In an attempt to make use of the NDVI for the diagnosis, in the present study, we tried to diagnose the disturbed status by comparing the values of NDVI calculated from rapideye satellite imagery. Our results confirmed the effect of NDVI. Specifically, H3, P2, N1, N2, and N3 which are types dominated by the tree or subtree layer had higher values than other types. However, the difference between herb dominated types (X1, X2, and H1) and shrub dominated types (X3, H2, and P1) was not significant (see Fig. 6). It can be inferred that the damaged area sampled from the field was narrow and the spatial resolution of rapideye satellite imagery is low to detect spatial variability (Wessels 2005). Therefore, in further research, a higher spatial resolution of satellite imagery is necessary and the number of samples should be sufficient. In addition, the NDVI from the low resolution of satellite imagery is suitable for a broadly degraded area.
The indicators suggested in the present study are broadly applicable for other disturbed areas, including many disturbance types in a forest ecosystem. However, specific indicators for the each disturbance type should be chosen. In addition, a more precise survey should be practiced for a restoration project of a specific area. For a successful restoration, a restoration plan based on the accurate survey and diagnosis of the degraded area in the Baekdudaegan has to be proposed. In addition, restoration target and level should be different according to the disturbed status of restoration site.
An ecological restoration project involves several developmental processes, such as planning, design, implementation, and aftercare. Diagnosis evaluation of degraded forest considering the established vegetation types is essential for the elaboration of restoration plans. In the present study, we classified the vegetation types according to the developmental stages, species composition, and characteristics of dominant species. Species richness, vegetation index (Hcl), the ratio of tree plants, and NDVI tended to increase, but the ratio of exotic plants tended to decrease with the time since abandonment. In addition, we confirmed a correlation between vegetation types and the values of the NDVI. Therefore, we suggested the five indicators for diagnosis. These indicators are applicable for broadly degraded areas, including many disturbance types in a forest ecosystem. However, specific indicators for each disturbance type should be chosen. In addition, a more precise survey should be practiced for a restoration project of a specific area. A restoration plan based on the correct diagnosis of the degraded area in the Baekdudaegan area has to be proposed for successful restoration.
We sincerely appreciated Hyeon Ho and Myeong from the Korea National Park Research Institute for reviewing willingly this manuscript.
This study was supported by the National Institute of Ecology titled “Conservation and Restoration Based Research on the Core Ecological Axis of the Korean Peninsula” in 2015.
Availability of data and materials
The data will not be shared for a reason.
SML carried out the field survey and data analysis and drafted the manuscript. JGC analyzed the NDVI from the rapideye satellite imagery. HGM supported the field survey and entered the data into a computer. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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