Potential site productivity influences the rate of forest structural development

Andrew J. Larson, James A. Lutz, Rolf F. Gersonde, Jerry F. Franklin, Forest F. Hietpas

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82 Scopus citations


Development and maintenance of structurally complex forests in landscapes formerly managed for timber production is an increasingly common management objective. It has been postulated that the rate of forest structural development increases with site productivity. We tested this hypothesis for Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) forests using a network of permanent study plots established following complete timber harvest of the original old-growth forests. Forest structural development was assessed by comparing empirical measures of live tree structure to published values for Douglas-fir forests spanning a range of ages and structural conditions. The rate of forest structural development - resilience - exhibited a positive relationship with site index, a measure of potential site productivity. Density of shade-intolerant conifers declined in all study stands from an initial range of 336-4068 trees/ha to a range of 168-642 trees/ha at the most recent measurement. Angiosperm tree species declined from an initial range of 40-371 trees/ha to zero in seven of the nine plots in which they were present. Trends in shade-tolerant tree density were complex: density ranged from 0 to 575 trees/ha at the first measurement and was still highly variable (25-389 trees/ha) at the most recent measurement. Multivariate analysis identified the abundance of hardwood tree species as the strongest compositional trend apparent over the study period. However, structural variables showed a strong positive association with increasing shade-tolerant basal area and little or no association with abundance of hardwood species. Thus, while tree species succession and forest structural development occur contemporaneously, they are not equivalent processes, and their respective rates are not necessarily linearly related. The results of this study support the idea that silvicultural treatments to accelerate forest structural development should be concentrated on lower productivity sites when the management objective is reserve-wide coverage of structurally complex forests. Alternatively, high-productivity sites should be prioritized for restoration treatments when the management objective is to develop structurally complex forests on a portion of the landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)899-910
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Douglas-fir
  • Forest restoration
  • Forest structural development
  • Late-successional
  • Productivity
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Resilience
  • Succession


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