Moderate-severity disturbances appear to be common throughout much of North America, but they have received relatively little detailed study compared to catastrophic disturbances and small gap dynamics. In this study, we examined the immediate impact of moderate-intensity wind storms on stand structure, opening sizes, and light regimes in three hemlock––hardwood forests of northeastern Wisconsin. These were compared to three stands managed by single-tree and group selection, the predominant forest management system for northern hardwoods in the region. Wind storms removed an average of 41%% of the stand basal area, compared to 27%% removed by uneven-aged harvests, but both disturbances removed trees from a wide range of size classes. The removal of nearly half of the large trees by wind in two old-growth stands caused partial retrogression to mature forest structure, which has been hypothesized to be a major disturbance pathway in the region. Wind storms resulted in residual stand conditions that were much more heterogeneous than in managed stands. Gap sizes ranged from less than 10 m 2 up to 5000 m 2 in wind-disturbed stands, whereas the largest opening observed in managed stands was only 200 m 2 . Wind-disturbed stands had, on average, double the available solar radiation at the forest floor compared to managed stands. Solar radiation levels were also more heterogeneous in wind-disturbed stands, with six times more variability at small scales (0.1225 ha) and 15 times more variability at the whole-stand level. Modification of uneven-aged management regimes to include occasional harvests of variable intensity and spatial pattern may help avoid the decline in species diversity that tends to occur after many decades of conventional uneven-aged management. At the same time, a multi-cohort system with these properties would retain a high degree of average crown cover, promote structural heterogeneity typical of old-growth forests, and maintain dominance by late-successional species.
Ecological Applications – Ecological Society of America
Published: Jul 1, 2007
Keywords: ecosystem management ; forest canopy gaps ; forest light regimes ; forest stand dynamics ; moderate-severity disturbance ; northern hardwoods ; old-growth forest ; stand development ; wind storm effects ; windthrow
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