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Relations between red alder composition and understory vegetation in young mixed forests of southeast Alaska

Hanley, T.A., Deal, R.L., Orlikowska, E.H.
Canadian journal of forest research = 2006 v.36 no.3 pp. 738
Alnus rubra, conifers, forest stands, mixed stands, understory, ground vegetation, Picea sitchensis, Tsuga heterophylla, Thuja plicata, dry matter accumulation, dry matter partitioning, Odocoileus hemionus, wildlife habitats, forest habitats, carrying capacity, feeding preferences, herbaceous plants, plant growth, stand composition, botanical composition, basal area, tree and stand measurements, Alaska
Interest in mixed red alder (Alnus rubra Bong.) - conifer young-growth stands has grown in southeast Alaska, USA, because they appear to provide much more productive understory vegetation and wildlife habitat than do similar-aged pure conifer stands. We studied understory vegetation in nine even-aged young-growth stands (38-42 years old) comprising a gradient of red alder - conifer overstory composition, with red alder ranging from 0% to 86% of stand basal area. Conifers were Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr.), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla (Raf.) Sarg.), and western redcedar (Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don). We measured understory biomass and net production (current annual growth) in each stand by species and plant part and estimated carrying capacity for black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis Cowan) with a food-based habitat model. Highly significant positive relations (P < 0.002) were found between red alder basal area and all of the following: total understory biomass (r2 = 0.743), net production of shrubs (r2 = 0.758) and herbs (r2 = 0.855), and summer carrying capacity for deer (r2 = 0.846). The high correlation between red alder and herbaceous production is especially important, because herbs are least abundant and most difficult to maintain in young-growth conifer forests of this region. Red alder offers prospects for increasing understory vegetation biomass and its food value for deer and other wildlife when included as a hardwood overstory species in mixed hardwood-conifer young-growth forests.