Spatial aspects of structural complexity in Sitka spruce–western hemlock forests, including evaluation of a new canopy gap delineation method

Eryn E. Schneider, Andrew J. Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Structural complexity in long-lived forests where stand-replacing disturbances are rare is thought to emerge from chronic small-scale disturbances and competitive interactions between trees. We analyzed tree size distributions, tree spatial patterns, and canopy gap attributes in ten 1.42 ha stem mapped plots in old-growth Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carrière)–western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla (Raf.) Sarg.) forests in southeast Alaska. Most plots had rotated sigmoid or reverse-J-shaped diameter distributions. Overstory tree patterns were uniform at short distance (<5 m) and random or aggregated at larger distances (>5 m); understory trees were spatially random or aggregated at most scales. Tree patterns were highly variable across plots. Overstory and understory tree populations were spatially independent in most medium canopy cover (40%–70%) plots but spatially repelled in most high canopy cover (>70%) plots. Canopy gap delineation using a traditional geometric approach identified more gaps and greater forest area in gaps compared to a new method based on canopy tree shadow lengths. We recommend defining the lower limit of canopy gap size using overstory tree crown diameter; gap delineation based on overstory tree shadow length is overly conservative at higher latitude sites. Our analyses show that, despite their low species richness, the temperate rainforests of southeast Alaska are highly structurally diverse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1044
Number of pages12
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Volume47
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 2017

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