Structural and compositional shifts in forests undergoing mesophication in the Wayne National Forest, southeastern Ohio
Publication date: 15 December 2018
Source: Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 430
Author(s): James D. Palus, P. Charles Goebel, David M. Hix, Stephen N. Matthews
Mesophication refers to the positive feedback cycle that occurs when fire suppression causes compositional shifts from oak (Quercus spp.) to other, primarily mesophytic, species. Because mesophytic species tend to be associated with relatively high-moisture sites, we sought to understand the extent to which physiographic and edaphic factors influence this process by examining forest successional dynamics over a period of 22 years. In 2016, we resampled a network of permanent plots first sampled in 1994 that were stratified across different landscape positions (e.g., north-facing slopes vs. south-facing slopes) in the Athens Unit of the Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio. By studying the changes in forest structure and composition relative to ecological land type, our results suggest little, if any, resistance to mesophication on sites with low moisture availability. For example, the relative density of red maple (Acer rubrum) large saplings on dry ridges increased 25%, while zero oaks were recorded in the large sapling layer on dry ridges in 2016. However, we did observe that American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is becoming substantially more abundant in the understory and may be more influential than red maple in determining the future species composition of these forests. American beech is expected to respond differently than red maple to future scenarios under predicted climate change, and is subject to a suite of novel pathogens that have broad implications for forest management in the region.
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