Spatial aggregation of forest structure strongly regulates understory light and its spatial variation in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) forest ecosystems. Previous studies have demonstrated that light availability strongly influences longleaf pine seedling growth. In this study, the relationship between spatial structure of a longleaf pine forest and spatial pattern of understory light availability were investigated by comparing three retention harvest treatments: singe-tree, small-group, large-group, and an uncut control. The harvests retained similar residaul basal area but the spatial patterns of the residual trees differed. Hemispherical photographs were taken at 300 stations to calculate gap light index (GLI), an estimate of understory light availability. Stand-level mean, variation, and spatial distribution of GLI were determined for each treatment. By aggregating residual trees, stand mean GLI increased by 20%, as well as its spatial variation. Spatial autocorrelation of GLI increased as the size of the canopy gaps increased and the gaps were better defined; thus, the predictability of GLI was enhanced. The ranges of detrended semivariograms were increased from the control to the large-group harvest indicating the spatial patterns of understory GLI became coarser textured. Our results demonstrated that aggregated canopy structure of longleaf pine forest will facilitate longleaf pine seedling regeneration.
Battaglia, Michael A.; Mou, Pu; Palik, Brian; Mitchell, Robert J. 2002. The effect of spatially variable overstory on the understory light environment of an open-canopied longleaf pine forest. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 32: 1984-1991.