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The dynamics of old-growth Pseudotsuga forests in the western Cascade Range, Oregon, USA

Abstract

Size and age structure, spatial analysis, and disturbance history were used to analyse the population structures and regeneration patterns of 8 conifer stands in the central western Cascade Range, Oregon, USA. Variation in forest structure reflected the effects of frequent (20–50 yr) low-intensity fires and treefalls, infrequent (100–200 yr) localised, intense fires, and extensive fires that resulted in stand replacement (every ca 400 yr?).

The amount of canopy removed and the size of openings formed by fires and treefalls were important determinants of subsequent forest establishment. Single or several species stands of Pseudotsuga and/or Abies procera, or mixed species stands of Pseudotsuga, Abies procera, Tsuga heterophylla and Abies amabilis established in openings where intense fires had removed most of the canopy trees over several ha. Multi-tiered and multi-aged stands, often containing 400–500 yr-old Pseudotsuga and variously-sized more or less even-aged patches of younger shade tolerant Tsuga heterophylla and/or Abies amabilis, occurred where lower-intensity fires did not kill all overstorey trees or where treefalls occurred after the initial fire.

Current regeneration processes are influenced by overstorey composition, the availability and size of canopy openings, and the availability of substrates suitable for regeneration. Tsuga heterophylla and Abies amabilis established under Pseudotsuga menziesii and Abies procera canopies and in small canopy openings (<400 m2) created by windfalls, but rarely under Tsuga. Down logs and stumps were favoured establishment sites for Tsuga.

The disturbance regime of fires of low-to moderate-intensity, windfalls, and occasional fires that result in extensive stand replacement contrasts with the pattern of infrequent, catastrophic disturbances proposed for other areas of the Pacific Northwest. Although fires at stand establishment commonly determine much of the composition, structure, and subsequent stand development, canopy replacement by shade tolerant species occurs as the different life histories of the species are expressed in response to various disturbances differing in intensity and frequency. Such a non-equilibrium view of vegetation change is consistent with many other fire-dominated forests of the western United States.

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Stewart, G.H. The dynamics of old-growth Pseudotsuga forests in the western Cascade Range, Oregon, USA. Vegetatio 82, 79–94 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00217985

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Keywords

  • Abies amabilis
  • Abies procera
  • Age structure
  • Disturbance
  • Fire history
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Size structure
  • Spatial pattern
  • Tsuga heterophylla