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Spatial Scale and Stand Structure in Northern Hardwood Forests: Implications for Quantifying Diameter Distributions

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Diameter distributions are frequently used to describe northern hardwood stand structure and serve as a structural guide for management. Several diameter distribution shapes have been found in managed and unmanaged uneven-aged northern hardwood stands, and it is unclear which patterns are due primarily to natural processes that could be self-perpetuating versus patterns that may be transient or aberrant. Variability in research methods has clouded consistent interpretation of resulting distributions. In this study, we evaluated northern hardwood stands in Michigan to determine how management and sample area affect interpretation of diameter distribution shape. Managed stands had a higher degree of variability in distribution shape and a tendency toward the increasing-q pattern. Unmanaged uneven-aged stands (i.e., old-growth remnants) were predominantly rotated sigmoid in shape. Patterns for each type of management became more consistent as sample area increased. Our data suggest a minimum sample area of 13% of total stand area may be needed to accurately capture diameter distribution shape; in this study that was 0.4 ha of a 3.2-ha sample plot. Additionally, greater heterogeneity in the structure of unmanaged stands resulted in the need for larger sample areas compared with that for managed stands.

Keywords: multicohort; old-growth; reverse-J; rotated sigmoid; structural heterogeneity; uneven-aged

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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