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Individual Highlight

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

Photo of Fence line of one of the plots with canopy gaps.  The vegetation is noticeably taller and denser inside the fence as compared to outside the fence. USDA Forest ServiceFence line of one of the plots with canopy gaps. The vegetation is noticeably taller and denser inside the fence as compared to outside the fence. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Current forests developed under conditions different from original forests, with more deer, less fire, and smaller canopy gaps. This has resulted in understories dominated by trees that are browse-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and fire sensitive, often making it harder for oaks to regenerate in some areas. Forest Service scientists evaluated how three key processes - understory fire, canopy gaps, and browsing - affected tree species in east central West Virginia to help foresters determine management actions.

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 : 2015
Highlight ID : 866

Summary

Current forests are developing differently from original forests, with more deer browsing, less fire, and smaller canopy gaps. This has resulted in understories dominated by trees that are browse-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and fire sensitive, often making oak regeneration more difficult. Forest Service scientists evaluated how three key processes - understory fire, canopy gaps, and deer browsing - influenced tree species in eastern central West Virginia. They were particularly interested in the responses of oak species (the dominant overstory species) and of maple species, black birch, and tulip tree (species likely to replace the current forest). Generally, fire caused significant reductions of red maple and striped maple seedlings and saplings and increased the number of black birch and tulip tree seedlings. Canopy gaps increased the abundance of black birch and tulip tree seedlings and saplings. Gaps and fire together caused an increase in tulip tree. Fencing out deer and creating canopy gaps together nearly doubled oak sapling importance values (which combines number of tree stems and their size) compared to either treatment alone; however, oak importance values remained low relative to other species. Given the significant interactions of browse control with the other processes, browse control should be considered when planning for oak regeneration.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • University of Pittsburgh

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