Forest restoration requires an understanding of the natural disturbance regime of the target community and estimates of the historic range of variability of ecosystem components (composition, structure, and disturbance processes). Management prescriptions that support specific restoration activities should be consistent with these parameters. In this study, we describe gap-phase dynamics of even-aged, second-growth red spruce-northern hardwood stands in West Virginia that have been significantly degraded following early Twentieth Century harvesting and wildfire. In the current stage of stand development, gaps tended to be small, with mean canopy gap and extended canopy gap sizes of 53.4m2 and 199.3m2, respectively, and a canopy turnover rate of 1.4%year-1. The majority of gaps resulted from the death of one or two trees. American beech snags were the most frequent gap maker, partially due to the elevated presence of beech-bark disease in the study area. Gaps ranged in age from 1 to 28 years, had a mean of 13 years, and were unimodal in distribution. We projected red spruce to be the eventual gap filler in approximately 40% of the gaps. However, we estimated that most average-sized gaps will close within 15-20 years before red spruce canopy ascension is projected (30-60 years). Accordingly, many understory red spruce will require more than one overhead release - an observation verified by the tree-ring record and consistent with red spruce life history characteristics. Based on our observations, silvicultural prescriptions that include overhead release treatments such as thinning from above or small gap creation through selection harvesting could be an appropriate activity to foster red spruce restoration in the central Appalachians. ?? 2010 Elsevier B.V.
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Canopy gap dynamics of second-growth red spruce-northern hardwood stands in West Virginia