Large wood dynamics in central Appalachian hemlock headwater ravines
Friday, 19 December 2014
Large wood (LW) is a critical component to forested mountain headwater streams contributing significantly to geomorphic and ecological processes. The character of LW is a function of valley recruitment processes that influence LW entering the channel and instream retention processes that influence LW transport through the channel reach. In the central Appalachian Mountains, US, LW dynamics in eastern hemlock-dominated ravines may change due to the invasive insect Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA). However, quantitative LW studies are lacking for this region, which are necessary for effective management of projected HWA-associated change. We examined LW dynamics across central Appalachian headwater streams to identify 1) the current state of LW load, 2) the relative environmental factors that influence LW load, 3) potential signs of HWA impact on LW dynamics, and 4) functional grouping patterns of LW pieces in these systems. In a field study that included 24 sites in Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia, mean wood density was 36 pieces/100m ± 21 and mean wood volume was 5.6 m3/100m ± 3.5. Most pieces were less than bankfull width suggesting high transportability, but large pieces (>10m) contributed significantly to wood volume, jam formation, and geomorphic function. Central Appalachian LW load was on the lower end of mountain headwater streams, but comparable to the northeastern US. A mixture of recruitment and retention processes influence wood dynamics, but channel retention processes better explain jam dynamics. Specifically, higher wood load was associated with lower forest basal area, smaller channel dimensions, and lower hydraulic driving forces, which is consistent with other studies. We did not detect a significant influence on wood load as a result of HWA infestation of ~20 years, which may reflect a lag period between tree mortality, toppling, and LW load. Pieces clustered in three functional groups of 1) larger, stable pieces that store sediment, stabilize the bank, and create pools, 2) relatively stable pieces that deflect flow and dissipate energy, and 3) smaller pieces associated with flow deflection and energy dissipation composed of mixed stability. This study provides quantitative information on LW dynamics in the central Appalachian region prior to expected environmental change associated with HWA.