Accumulation and connectivity of coarse woody debris in partial harvest and unmanaged relict forests

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Abstract

When a tree dies, it continues to play an important ecological role within forests. Coarse woody debris (CWD), including standing deadwood (SDW) and downed deadwood (DDW), is an important functional component of forest ecosystems, particularly for many dispersal-limited saproxylic taxa and for metapopulation dynamics across landscapes. Processes, such as natural disturbance or management, modify forest composition and structure, thereby influencing CWD abundance and distribution. Many studies have compared older forests to forests managed with even- Aged silvicultural systems and observed a prolonged period of low CWD occurrence after harvesting. With fine-scale spatial data, our study compares the long-term impacts of light partial harvesting on the CWD structure of eastern deciduous hardwood forests. We mapped and inventoried DDW and SDW using variable radius plots based on a 10 m610 m grid throughout an unmanaged, structurallycomplex relict forest and two nearby forests that were partially harvested over 46 years ago. The relict stand had significantly larger individual pieces and higher accumulations of DDW and SDW than both of the partially harvested stands. Connectivity of CWD was much higher in the relict stand, which had fewer, larger patches. Larger pieces and higher proportion of decay-resistant species (e.g. Quercus spp.) in the relict forest resulted in slower decomposition, greater accumulation and increased connectivity of CWD. Partial harvests, such that occur with selection forestry, are generally considered less disruptive of ecosystem services, but this study highlights the long-term impacts of even light partial harvests on CWD stocks and distribution. When planning harvesting events, forest managers should also consider alternative methods to ensure the sustainability of deadwood resources and function.

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Morrissey, R. C., Jenkins, M. A., & Saunders, M. R. (2014). Accumulation and connectivity of coarse woody debris in partial harvest and unmanaged relict forests. PLoS ONE, 9(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0113323

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