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New Harvard Forest Publication: Disturbance Dynamics in Massachusetts Old-growth Forests

November 1, 2008
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Natural disturbances strongly influence the dynamics and developmental patterns of forest ecosystems; however, relatively little is known about the historic patterns of natural disturbance for many portions of eastern North America, such as southern New England, where human disturbance has predominated for centuries. Former Summer Research Program student (2000) and Ph.D. student (2007) Tony D'Amato along with HF forest ecologist David Orwig analyzed dendroecological data from the eighteen largest remaining old-growth stands in western Massachusetts ranging in proximity from 1-60 km apart to characterize the historic stand and landscape-level patterns of natural disturbance. Results indicate that disturbance regimes for these systems were dominated by relatively frequent, low intensity disturbances (average 5.0 ± 0.2 % canopy area disturbed per decade) operating somewhat randomly on the landscape. Across the study areas, most decadal disturbances (86.2%) involved less than 10 % canopy loss. There was no evidence of stand-replacing disturbances during the period examined (1700-1989) and the maximum canopy area disturbed in any given decade was 26.3%. Comparisons of these decadal patterns with model simulations of past hurricane events and historical documents suggest that broad-scale disturbances, such as hurricanes and ice storms, resulted in common disturbance peaks and subsequent recruitment peaks at spatially disparate areas in the 1790s, 1870s, 1900s and 1920s. Conversely, the lack of synchrony in proximate areas during these events highlights the patchy nature of these disturbances on the landscape.

D'Amato, A.W. and D.A. Orwig. 2008. Stand and Landscape-level Disturbance Dynamics in Old-Growth Forests in Western Massachusetts. Ecological Monographs, 78(4), 2008, pp. 507–522. 

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