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Using light to predict fuels-reduction and group-selection effects on succession in Sierran mixed-conifer forest

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Many semi-arid coniferous forests in western North America have reached historically unprecedented densities over the past 150 years and are dominated by shade-tolerant trees. Silvicultural treatments generally open the canopy but may not restore shade-intolerant species. We determined crossover-point irradiance (CPI) (light at which the height growth rank of pairs of species changes) for seedlings in Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest and used these to interpret light environments produced by fuels-reduction thinning and group selection with reserved large trees. Nine of 21 species pairs had well-defined CPIs. The CPI of the most common shade-tolerant and intolerant species (white fir (Abies concolor (Gordon & Glendl.) Lindl. ex Hildebr.) and ponderosa pine ( Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex P. Lawson & C. Lawson)) was 22.5 mol·m–2·day–1 or 41% of full sun. Median understory irradiance increased from 9.2 mol·m–2·day–1 (17% full sun) in pretreatment forest to 13 mol·m–2·day–1 (24% full sun) in lightly and 15.5 mol·m–2·day–1 (28% full sun) in moderately thinned stands and 37 mol·m–2·day–1 (67% full sun) in group-selection openings. We estimate that 5%–20% of ground area in lightly to moderately thinned stands would have enough light to favor shade-intolerant over shade-tolerant growth compared with 89% of ground area in group-selection openings. The CPI provides a tool to assess regeneration implications of treatment modification such as increasing heterogeneity of thinning to enhance regeneration or reserving large trees in group-selection openings to maintain wildlife habitat.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, 1731 Research Park Drive, Davis, CA 95618, USA.

Publication date: October 8, 2011

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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