Long-term patterns of fruit production in five forest types of the South Carolina upper coastal plain
Fleshy fruit is a key food resource for many vertebrates and may be particularly important energy source to birds during fall migration and winter. Hence, land managers should know how fruit availability varies among forest types, seasons, and years. We quantified fleshy fruit abundance monthly for 9 years (1995–2003) in 56 0.1-ha plots in 5 forest types of South Carolina’s upper Coastal Plain, USA. Forest types were mature upland hardwood and bottomland hardwood forest, mature closed-canopy loblolly (Pinus taeda) and longleaf pine (P. palustris) plantation, and recent clearcut regeneration harvests planted with longleaf pine seedlings. Mean annual number of fruits and dry fruit pulp mass were highest in regeneration harvests (264,592 ± 37,444 fruits; 12,009 ± 2,392 g/ha), upland hardwoods (60,769 ± 7,667 fruits; 5,079 ± 529 g/ha), and bottomland hardwoods (65,614 ± 8,351 fruits; 4,621 ± 677 g/ha), and lowest in longleaf pine (44,104 ± 8,301 fruits; 4,102 ± 877 g/ha) and loblolly (39,532 ± 5,034 fruits; 3,261 ± 492 g/ha) plantations. Fruit production was initially high in regeneration harvests and declined with stand development and canopy closure (1995–2003). Fruit availability was highest June–September and lowest in April. More species of fruit-producing plants occurred in upland hardwoods, bottomland hardwoods, and regeneration harvests than in loblolly and longleaf pine plantations. Several species produced fruit only in 1 or 2 forest types. In sum, fruit availability varied temporally and spatially because of differences in species composition among forest types and age classes, patchy distributions of fruiting plants both within and among forest types, fruiting phenology, high inter-annual variation in fruit crop size by some dominant fruit-producing species, and the dynamic process of disturbance-adapted species colonization and decline, or recovery in recently harvested stands. Land managers could enhance fruit availability for wildlife by creating and maintaining diverse forest types and age classes.