Quantifying canopy complexity and effects on productivity and resilience in late-successional hemlock–hardwood forests

Published on 2016-08-04T21:34:22Z (GMT) by
<p>The regrowing forests of eastern North America have been an important global C sink over the past 100+ years, but many are now transitioning into late succession. The consequences of this transition are unclear due to uncertainty around the C dynamics of old-growth forests. Canopy structural complexity (CSC) has been shown to be an important source of variability in C dynamics in younger forests (e.g., in productivity and resilience to disturbance), but its role in late-successional forests has not been widely addressed. We investigated patterns of CSC in two old-growth forest landscapes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, USA, to assess factors associated with CSC and its influence on productivity and disturbance resilience (to moderate-severity windstorm). CSC was quantified using a portable below-canopy LiDAR (PCL) system in 65 plots that also had long-term (50–70+ years) inventory data, which were used to quantify aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), disturbance history, and stand characteristics. We found high and variable CSC relative to younger forests across a suite of PCL-derived metrics. Variation in CSC was driven by species composition and size structure, rather than disturbance history or site characteristics. Recent moderate severity wind disturbance decreased plot-scale CSC, but increased stand-scale variation in CSC. The strong positive correlation between CSC and productivity illustrated in younger forests was not present in undisturbed portions of these late-successional ecosystems. Moderate severity disturbance appeared to reestablish the positive link between CSC and productivity, but this relationship was scale and severity dependent. A positive CSC–productivity relationship was evident at the plot scale with low-severity, dispersed disturbance, but only at a patch scale in more severely disturbed areas. CSC does not appear to strongly correlate with variation in productivity in undisturbed old-growth forests, but may play a very important (and scale/severity-dependent) role in their response to disturbance. Understanding potential drivers and consequences of CSC in late-successional forests will inform management focused on promoting complexity and old-growth conditions, and illustrate potential impacts of such treatments on regional C dynamics.</p>

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Fahey, Robert T.; Fotis, Alexander T.; Woods, Kerry D. (2016): Quantifying canopy complexity and effects on productivity and resilience in late-successional hemlock–hardwood forests. Wiley.