Studies of forest change in western North America often focus on increased densities of small-diameter trees rather than on changes in the large tree component. Large trees generally have lower rates of mortality than small trees and are more resilient to climate change, but these assumptions have rarely been examined in long-term studies. We combined data from 655 historical (1932-1936) and 210 modern (1988-1999) vegetation plots to examine changes in density of large-diameter trees in Yosemite National Park (3027 km2). We tested the assumption of stability for large-diameter trees, as both individual species and communities of large-diameter trees. Between the 1930s and 1990s, large-diameter tree density in Yosemite declined 24%. Although the decrease was apparent in all forest types, declines were greatest in subalpine and upper montane forests (57.0% of park area), and least in lower montane forests (15.3% of park area). Large-diameter tree densities of 11 species declined while only 3 species increased. Four general patterns emerged: (1) Pinus albicaulis, Quercus chrysolepis, and Quercus kelloggii had increases in density of large-diameter trees occur throughout their ranges; (2) Pinus jeffreyi, Pinus lambertiana, and Pinus ponderosa, had disproportionately larger decreases in large-diameter tree densities in lower-elevation portions of their ranges; (3) Abies concolor and Pinus contorta, had approximately uniform decreases in large-diameter trees throughout their elevational ranges; and (4) Abies magnifica, Calocedrus decurrens, Juniperus occidentalis, Pinus monticola, Pseudotsuga menziesii, and Tsuga mertensiana displayed little or no change in large-diameter tree densities. In Pinus ponderosa-Calocedrus decurrens forests, modern large-diameter tree densities were equivalent whether or not plots had burned since 1936. However, in unburned plots, the large-diameter trees were predominantly A. concolor, C. decurrens, and Q. chrysolepis, whereas P. ponderosa dominated the large-diameter component of burned plots. Densities of large-diameter P. ponderosa were 8.1 trees ha-1 in plots that had experienced fire, but only 0.5 trees ha-1 in plots that remained unburned. ?? 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Twentieth-century decline of large-diameter trees in Yosemite National Park, California, USA