Overstory species response to clearcut harvest across environmental gradients in hardwood forests
Publication date: 15 November 2018
Source: Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 428
Author(s): J. Travis Swaim, Daniel C. Dey, Michael R. Saunders, Dale R. Weigel, Christopher D. Thornton, John M. Kabrick, Michael A. Jenkins
Despite their long history as a forest dominant, the importance of Quercus (oak) species is declining under contemporary disturbance regimes in many parts of the world. This is cause for concern considering the great economic and ecological value of this genus. While many chronosequence studies have shown that clearcutting has accelerated the loss of Quercus species in forests of eastern North America, long-term repeated measures studies are needed to understand how topo-edaphic variables and disturbance history influence the persistence of the genus in post-harvest stands. In 1988, a study was implemented on the Hoosier National Forest (HNF) in southern Indiana, USA to examine the fate of Quercus species and their competitors within developing stands following clearcut harvests. Permanent plots were established in six harvest units in Quercus–Carya (oak-hickory) forests using a stratified design to capture a variety of physiographic and edaphic conditions. Pre-harvest plot data were collected in 1988 and plots were resampled in 2011, allowing documentation of shifts in species composition over a 23-year period (1988–2011). Aerial photos from the 1930s were used to determine canopy cover and likely historic land-use within each stand prior to incorporation into the HNF. To characterize edaphic conditions, soil samples were collected and analyzed for chemical characteristics in 2011. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) and multiple linear regression using fixed and mixed-effect models were used to examine species composition along topo-edaphic and historic canopy cover gradients. We observed drastic declines in the importance of Quercus alba (white oak), Quercus velutina (black oak), and Quercus prinus (chestnut oak) across all stands following harvest. During the same time period, we observed large increases in the importance of other species, with Acer rubrum (red maple) showing large increases on the driest sites and Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip-poplar) displaying the greatest increase across all sites. In pre-harvest stands, Q. prinus was confined to the poorest sites and displayed the strongest association of all species with historically closed canopies in both pre and post-harvest stands. In post-harvest stands, the diminished importance of Q. alba was associated with low soil nitrogen levels and historically open canopies. L. tulipifera and Prunus serotina (black cherry) were associated with more nutrient-rich mesic sites in post-harvest stands. Populus grandidentata (bigtooth aspen) in post-harvest stands was associated with historically closed canopies and low cation exchange capacity.
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