Restoration of old-growth forest structure is an emerging silvicultural goal, especially in those regions where old-growth abundance falls below the historic range of variability. However, longitudinal studies of old-growth dynamics that can inform silvicultural and policy options are few. We analyzed the change in structure, including stand density, diameter distribution, and the abundance of large live, standing dead, and downed dead trees on 58 late-successional and old-growth plots in Maine, USA, and compared these to regional data from the U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis program. Structural dynamics on the late-successional plots reflected orderly change associated with density-dependent growth and mortality, but dynamics on the old-growth plots were more variable. Some plots experienced heavy mortality associated with beech bark disease. Diameter distributions conformed poorly to a classic exponential distribution, and did not converge toward such a distribution at the plot scale. Although large live trees showed a broad trend of increasing density in regional forests, recent harvesting patterns offset a considerable fraction of those gains, while mean diameter was static and the number of large dead trees was weakly declining. Even though forests of the northeast are aging, changes in silviculture and forest policy are necessary to accelerate restoration of old-growth structure.
Natural Resources and the Environment
Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Ducey, M.J., Gunn, J.S., Whitman, A.A. Late-successional and old-growth forests in the northeastern United States: Structure, dynamics, and prospects for restoration. (2013) Forests, 4 (4), pp. 1055-1086. DOI: 10.3390/f4041055
© 2013 by the authors.