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Individual Highlight

Pushing the Limits of Forest Resilience

Photo of Location of study installations across the United States and Canada. USDA Forest ServiceLocation of study installations across the United States and Canada. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Intense demand for forest resources has been a fact of life in the United States, from the early days of western expansion to today's rapid pace of increasing population pressure and expanding forest fragmentation. Can U.S. forests retain their native resilience as the stress from natural and human-based disturbances escalates? Scientists in the United States and Canada challenged this premise in a long-term study of forest soil health following intensive harvesting. The findings after 20 years showed a remarkable recovery by forested sites throughout North America despite the initial presence of uncharacteristically high levels of soil damage.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Busse, Matt D. 
Research Location : United States and Canada
Research Station : Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 821


The Long-Term Soil Productivity Study was conceived in the 1980s by a consortium of concerned U.S. and Canadian scientists. Recognizing that properly functioning soil is a prerequisite for the health of all forested ecosystems, the scientists designed and installed a common experiment at more than 100 sites throughout the two countries to test the resilience of soils and forests following moderate-to-severe disturbance. The study's guiding principle was based on the assertion that forest productivity and health are governed by soil processes which are, in turn, readily affected by management. A series of treatments on clearcut land included combinations of soil compaction and partial or complete removal of nutrient-rich surface organic residues. The study asked whether critical changes in soil fertility and porosity have a lasting effect on forest vegetation and, if so, how would the effects vary across continental climates and soils? By 2015, most study sites in California had reached the 20-year mark, and the findings provided unanticipated evidence of forest soil resilience and recovery. Diagnostic soil properties such as carbon storage, nutrient content, root penetration, and water and air movement did not differ dramatically among treatments, and, of equal surprise, differences in tree growth response were ordinary. These findings support the concept that soil functions can remain robust following a one-time forest harvest disturbance of considerable severity.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Forest Service - National Forest Systems, Canadian Forest Service, British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range, Univ. Northern British Columbia, Michigan Tech University, UC Davis, Oregon State University, Virginia Tech University, Lincoln University, others.

Program Areas