Spatial modeling and inventories for prioritizing investment into oak-hickory restoration
Publication date: 15 September 2018
Source:Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 424
Author(s): Louis R. Iverson, Matthew P. Peters, Jarel L. Bartig, Joanne Rebbeck, Todd F. Hutchinson, Stephen N. Matthews, Susan Stout
Oak (Quercus spp.) and hickory (Carya spp.) forests in the eastern United States provide a host of ecosystem services as their mast are prized by wildlife, the timber is a valued commodity, and they are generally more tolerant of extreme weather events under a changing climate. They are, however, undergoing a severe decline in prominence throughout the region, yielding to more mesic and shade-tolerant species, largely red maple (Acer rubrum). Two decades of research in Ohio have shown that silviculture and/or natural disturbances that reduce understory shade during seedling establishment and early growth, followed by canopy opening and competition management through prescribed fire and partial cutting, can encourage oak and hickory regeneration, most successfully on drier ridges and south- and southwest-facing slopes. We employed an ecological classification and mapping approach to prioritize areas across a 17-county region (∼22,000 km2) that may be more receptive, and thus more cost effective, to successful oak regeneration following silvicultural treatment. The ecomapping effort was comprised of two parts; a GIS model of the terrain, and a stand inventory of current vegetation condition coupled with the SILVAH decision-support system to recommend needed silvicultural treatments. The GIS model is based primarily on topography as vegetation patterns in the project area are largely driven by landscape position and soil moisture regimes. It uses transformed aspect, slope angle, topographic position index, and slope position as inputs to define six classes of landtype phases: ridge, southwest upper slopes, southwest lower slopes, northeast upper slopes, northeast lower slopes, and bottomland. The first three and following two classes, respectively, were hierarchically nested to form Dry Oak Forest and Dry-mesic Mixed Oak Hardwood Forest classes at the landtype level. Dry Oak Forests require the least silvicultural intervention to sustain or restore oak, while the other two landtypes normally require serious intervention to sustain oak into the future. To determine whether sufficient stocking is present for adequate regeneration, we use forest inventory data to represent current vegetation conditions including both overstory and understory stocking. Overall, these tools allow managers to identify ‘zones of investment’, i.e., those stands with the bulk of the area in the Dry Oak Forest landtype and with some level of advance oak regeneration, which will have a greater likelihood of growing into oak-dominated stands with minimal investment of scarce funding resources.
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