Regional variation in stand structure and development in forests of Oregon, Washington, and inland Northern California

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  • Despite its importance to biodiversity and ecosystem function, patterns and drivers of regional scale variation in forest structure and development are poorly understood. We characterize structural variation, create a hierarchical classification of forest structure, and develop an empirically based framework for conceptualizing structural development from 11,091 plots across 25 million ha of all ownerships in Oregon, Washington, and inland Northern California, USA. A single component related to live tree biomass accounted for almost half of the variation in a principal components analysis of structural attributes, but components related to live tree density and size, dead wood, and understory vegetation together accounted for as much additional variation. These results indicate that structural development is more complex than a monotonic accumulation of live biomass as other components may act independently or emerge at multiple points during development. The classification revealed the diversity of structural conditions expressed at all levels of live biomass depending on the timing and relative importance of a variety of ecological processes (e.g., mortality) in different vegetation zones. Low live biomass structural types (<25 Mg/ha) illustrated the diversity of early-seral conditions and differed primarily in density of live trees and abundance of snags and dead wood. Moderate live biomass structural types (25–99 Mg/ha) differed in tree size and density and generally lacked dead wood, but some structurally diverse types associated with partial stand-replacing disturbance had abundant live and dead legacies. High live biomass structural types (>100 Mg/ha) substantiated the diversity of later developmental stages and exhibited considerable variation in the abundance of dead wood and density of big trees. Most structural types corresponded with previously described stages of development, but others associated with protracted early development, woodland/savannah transitions, and partial stand-replacing disturbance lacked analogs and indicated alternative pathways of development. We propose a conceptual framework that distinguishes among families of pathways depending on the range of variation along different components of structure, the relative importance of different disturbances, and complexity of pathways. Our framework is a starting point for developing more comprehensive models of structural development that apply to a wider variety of vegetation zones differing in environment and disturbance regimes.
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  • Reilly, M. J., & Spies, T. A. (2015). Regional variation in stand structure and development in forests of Oregon, Washington, and inland Northern California. Ecosphere, 6(10), 192. doi:10.1890/ES14-00469.1
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  • 6
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  • 10
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  • Funding for this work was provided by the USDA Forest Service Region 6 Inventory and Analysis program.



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