Variation in forest biomass change highlights regional differences in forest succession in the Pacific Northwest, USA.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
David M Bell and Andrew N Gray, US Forest Service Corvallis, Corvallis, OR, United States
Forest successional theory describes the changes in forest biomass and community composition from forest establishment to climax communities, but the drivers of succession are still widely debated. For example, successional models have related biomass and community change to stand age, species rarity within the community, small-scale disturbance, or the ability of species to survive under low resource conditions. The degree to which these drivers might vary regionally limits our ability to model and predict ecosystem change. Our objective was to assess whether forest successional theory explains observed changes in species biomass and community composition across forests of the U. S. Pacific Northwest. Using remeasurements of 9,700 Current Vegetation Survey (CVS) National Forest inventory plots primarily in Oregon and Washington, we quantified the effects of forest stand age, community composition, disturbance, and moisture (i.e., topography and climate) on changes in species-specific proportional live biomass (ΔB) and species dominance (ΔD). We focused on differences in forest successional patterns in two vegetation zones: the Tsuga heterophylla (TSHE) zone, found at low elevations on the wet, west side of the Cascade Mountains; and the Abies concolor (ABCO) zone, found at mid-elevations on the dry, east side of the Cascade Mountains. Preliminary results indicate that the regional differences in tree species biomass change and dominance appear to be related to responses to climate and disturbance. Strong positive effects of cover change on ΔB were observed in the drier ABCO zone, but not the wetter TSHE zone. ΔB and ΔD were more often sensitive to precipitation and topographic position in the ABCO zone. In both regions, we found that ΔB was strongly negatively related to species biomass and stand age while ΔD was strongly negatively related to relative density, highlighting the importance of both age and community in shaping succession. Given that the importance of different forest successional processes in shaping ecosystem change varied regionally, this work provides valuable insights into potential risks of changing climate and disturbance regimes to species persistence and ecosystem stability across forests of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.