Recent interest in using forest residues and small-diameter material for biofuels is generating a renewed focus on harvesting impacts and forest sustainability. The rich legacy of research from whole-tree harvesting studies can be examined in light of this interest. Although this research largely focused on consequences for forest productivity, in particular carbon and nutrient pools, it also has relevance for examining potential consequences for biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems. This review is framed within a context of contrasting ecosystem impacts from whole-tree harvesting because it represents a high level of biomass removal. Although whole-tree harvesting does not fully use the nonmerchantable biomass available, it indicates the likely direction and magnitude of impacts that can occur through energy-wood harvesting compared with less-intensive conventional harvesting and to dynamics associated with various natural disturbances. The intent of this comparison is to gauge the degree of departure of energy-wood harvesting from less intensive conventional harvesting. The review of the literature found a gradient of increasing departure in residual structural conditions that remained in the forest when conventional and whole-tree harvesting was compared with stand-replacing natural disturbance. Important stand- and landscape-level processes were related to these structural conditions. The consequence of this departure may be especially potent because future energy-wood harvests may more completely use a greater range of forest biomass at potentially shortened rotations, creating a great need for research that explores the largely unknown scale of disturbance that may apply to our forest ecosystems.
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Ecological impacts of energy-wood harvests: lessons from whole-tree harvesting and natural disturbance