We calculated relative growth rates of all species over 10 cm circumference at breast height from 1997-1999, 1999-2001 and 2001-2003 in a 70 by 100 m plot in an oak forest in southeastern Michigan. Red maple and black cherry represented most of the understory species while white and black oaks dominated the canopy. During the summer of 1999, Outbreak levels of gypsy moths preferentially defoliated oaks on the plot, often resulting in 100% defoliation. The relative growth rates (RGR) of red maple and black cherry were significantly higher during the time period where gypsy moths were at outbreak levels. Oaks had lower RGR during the gypsy moth attack than in the subsequent time period. Consequently, the preference gypsy moths exhibited towards oak species indirectly resulted in a higher growth rate for understory tree species, possibly due to increased light availability and the decreased competitive capacity of the defoliated oaks. This indirect effect could accelerate the succession at which oak dominated communities become red maple forests.
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