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Roles of Fire, Browse, and Canopy Gaps in the Understory of an Oak-dominated Forest

Photo of An example of typical understory conditions in the Summer of 2008 on one of the fenced subplots on the Monongahela National Forest. Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy, USDA Forest ServiceAn example of typical understory conditions in the Summer of 2008 on one of the fenced subplots on the Monongahela National Forest. Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Current forests developed under conditions different from original forests, with more deer, less fire, and smaller canopy gaps. The difference resulted in understories dominated by trees that are browse-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and fire sensitive, and also makes it harder for oaks to regenerate in some areas. To help foresters determine management actions, a Forest Service scientist and research partner evaluated how three key processes, understory fire, canopy gaps, and browsing, affected tree species in east-central West Virginia.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Thomas-Van Gundy, Melissa 
Research Location : Fernow Experimental Forest and Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 621

Summary

Current forests developed with more deer, less fire, and smaller canopy gaps than original forests. This set of conditions has resulted in understories dominated by trees that are browse-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and fire sensitive, making it harder for oaks to regenerate in some areas. A Forest Service scientist and research partner at the University of Pittsburgh evaluated how three key processes, understory fire, canopy gaps, and browsing, influenced tree species in east-central West Virginia. They were particularly interested in the responses of oak species, the dominant overstory species, and maple species, black birch, and yellow-poplar, as these are likely to replace the current forest. In general, fire caused significant reductions of red maple and striped maple seedlings and saplings and increased the number of black birch and yellow-poplar seedlings. Canopy gaps increased the abundance of black birch and yellow-poplar seedlings and saplings. Gaps and fire together caused an increase in the relative abundance of yellow-poplar. Fencing out deer and creating canopy gaps together nearly doubled oak sapling importance values versus either treatment alone; however, oak importance values remained low. Given the significant interactions of browse control with the other two processes, browse control should be considered when planning for oak regeneration treatments such as canopy gaps or prescribed fire.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • University of Pittsburgh

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