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Consequences of Shifts in Abundance and Distribution of American Chestnut for Restoration of a Foundation Forest Tree

Dalgleish, Harmony J., Nelson, C. Dana, Scrivani, John A., Jacobs, Douglass F.
Forests 2015 v.7 no.1
Castanea dentata, USDA Forest Service, blight, climate change, ecological function, forest inventory, forest trees, fungi, genetic variation, geographical distribution, humans, monitoring, planning, reproduction, stems
Restoration of foundation species, such as the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) that was devastated by an introduced fungus, can restore ecosystem function. Understanding both the current distribution as well as biogeographic patterns is important for restoration planning. We used United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data to quantify the current density and distribution of C. dentata. We then review the literature concerning biogeographic patterns in C. dentata. Currently, 431 ± 30.2 million stems remain. The vast majority (360 ± 22 million) are sprouts <2.5 cm dbh. Although this number is approximately 10% of the estimated pre-blight population, blight has caused a major shift in the size structure. The current-day population has a larger range, particularly west and north, likely due to human translocation. While climate change could facilitate northward expansion, limited seed reproduction makes this unlikely without assisted migration. Previous research demonstrates that the current, smaller population contains slightly higher genetic diversity than expected, although little information exists on biogeographic patterns in the genetics of adaptive traits. Our research provides a baseline characterization of the contemporary population of C. dentata, to enable monitoring stem densities and range limits to support restoration efforts.