Understorey plant species composition is an important part of forest ecosystems and its conservation is becoming an increasingly frequent objective in forest management plans. However, there is a lack of knowledge of the effect of timber harvesting on the characteristic understorey species in the Mediterranean region. We investigated the effects of three different harvest intensities on the short-term dynamics of understorey vegetation in a natural Maritime pine forest in Spain, and compared the results with uncut controls. Clear-cutting induced both qualitative and quantitative differences with respect to the controls, but intermediate levels of harvesting (25% and 50% removal) induced only quantitative differences. Harvesting reduced the frequency and cover of 56% of characteristic forest species, but only 22% showed an increase. Of the most abundant plant families only the Fabaceae showed a significant response with respect to harvesting intensity. Our findings suggest that Light- and Medium-harvest regimes are better management options than clear-cutting if the aim is to conserve the understorey vegetation.