Disturbance history was reconstructed across an 11300 ha managed longleaf pine (Pinus palustris
Mill.) landscape in southwestern Georgia, USA. Our specific objectives were to: (i) determine forest age structure; (ii) reconstruct disturbance history through the relationship between canopy disturbance, tree recruitment and growth; and (iii) explore the relationship between canopy disturbance and climate. Age structure, canopy disturbance events and initial growth patterns at coring height were examined by randomly sampling 1260 trees in 70 1.3 ha plots. Principal component analysis was used to group plots with similar age structures to gain insight into the dynamics between canopy disturbance and recruitment. Disturbance events were detected by large and rapid increases in radial growth. We tested the following hypothesis to investigate whether these growth increases could have been triggered by improved climatic conditions: precipitation and drought are positively correlated to radial growth releases. Only four stands (comprising <6% of the study area) had an even-aged structure. Further, tree recruitment prior to European settlement indicates that longleaf pine naturally recruited into areas 1.3 ha or less, supporting early-20th century observations that the primary longleaf pine forest was uneven-aged. Contrary to our hypothesis, growing season precipitation and drought was significantly and negatively correlated with canopy disturbance (radial growth releases), which indicates that a reconstruction of disturbance history could proceed with some confidence. Most trees sampled were recruited at coring height from 1910 to 1935. Of the 67 canopy disturbances detected from 1910 to 1935, the average growth release ranged from 139 to 277% per half decade suggesting the occurrence of large canopy disturbances. Rapid initial growth patterns of young trees during these years show evidence of reduced overstory competition and support the detected disturbance intensity. Our reconstruction of stand dynamics is markedly similar to independent records of local oral and written history, which gives an additional set of evidence that the disturbance detection methodology used can be useful in open-canopied forests. Stands with multiple cohorts reveal a mix of continuous minor and major canopy disturbances leading to continual tree recruitment, suggesting their applicability as models for long-term forest management. The significant relationship between climate and disturbance in our data suggests that with the expected warming over the next 100 years, climatic impacts on stand dynamics should be incorporated into long-term longleaf pine forest restoration and management.
Pederson, Neil; Varner, J. Morgan III; Palik, Brian J. 2008. Canopy disturbance and tree recruitment over two centuries in a managed longleaf pine landscape. For Ecol Manage 254:85 95.