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A Functional Framework for Improved Management of Western North American Aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.)

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Abstract:

Quaking or trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) forests occur in highly diverse settings across North America. However, management of distinct communities has long relied on a single aspen-to-conifer successional model. We examine a variety of aspen-dominated stand types in the western portion of its range as ecological systems, avoiding an exclusive focus on seral dynamics or single-species management. We build a case for a large-scale functional aspen typology based on the existing literature. Aspen functional types are defined as aspen communities that differ markedly in their physical and biological processes. The framework presented here describes two “functional types” and seven embedded “subtypes”: seral (boreal and montane), stable (parkland, Colorado Plateau, elevation and aspect limited, and terrain isolated), and a crossover seral-stable subtype (riparian). The assessment hinges on a matrix comparing proposed functional types across a suite of environmental characteristics. Differences among functional groups based on physiological and climatic conditions, stand structures and dynamics, and disturbance types and periodicity are described herein. We further examine management implications and challenges, such as human alterations, ungulate herbivory, and climate futures, that affect the functionality of these aspen systems. The functional framework lends itself well to stewardship and research that seek to understand and emulate ecological processes rather than combat them. We see advantages of applying this approach to other widespread forest communities that engender diverse functional adaptations.

Keywords: adaptive management; biodiversity; classification; climate; forests; landscape

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5849/forsci.12-156

Publication date: April 19, 2014

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
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