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The effect of logging on vegetation composition in Western Massachusetts

McDonald, Robert I., Motzkin, Glenn, Foster, David R.
Forest ecology and management 2008 v.255 no.12 pp. 4021-4031
logging, private forestry, forests, species diversity, forest stands, stand composition, seedlings, density, understory, forest trees, natural regeneration, Betula lenta, Pinus strobus, Quercus, soil fertility, climatic factors, carbon nitrogen ratio, land use, statistical analysis, saplings, Massachusetts
Forest harvesting is one of the most significant disturbances affecting forest plant composition and structure in eastern North American forests, yet few studies have quantified the landscape-scale effects of widespread, low-intensity harvests by non-industrial private forest owners. Using spatially explicit data on all harvests over the last 20 years, we sampled the vegetation at 126 sites throughout central and western Massachusetts, one-third of which had not been harvested, and two-thirds of which had been harvested once since 1984. Seedling and sapling densities increased with increasing harvest intensity, but decreased to levels similar to unharvested sites by year 20 for all but the most intensive harvests. The composition of understory trees appears to be only slightly changed by harvesting, and was strongly correlated with adult tree composition. Regeneration was dominated by Betula lenta followed by Pinus strobus; Quercus spp. exhibited little sapling recruitment, even in Quercus-dominated stands. Total vascular plant species richness increased substantially with harvesting on low C:N sites (i.e., rich soils), but was only slightly increased on high C:N sites. While harvesting was associated with a statistically significant change in vascular plant composition, non-metric multidimensional scaling revealed that climate (temperature, precipitation) and C:N ratios were the major correlates of composition. Overall, the compositional impacts of harvesting were minor, perhaps because of the low-intensity of harvesting. However, our results support observations from elsewhere in the northeastern U.S. of limited oak regeneration on both harvested and unharvested sites. In addition, our results suggest that increased harvest intensity may be expected to alter forest composition, particularly on rich sites where invasive species may increase as a result of harvesting.