Watershed-scale vegetation patterns in a late-successional forest landscape in the Oregon Coast Range Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/qf85nf19t

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  • Knowledge about vegetation patterns and ecological processes in unmanaged, late-successional watersheds is needed to provide a foundation for forest management strategies aimed at conserving native biodiversity. I examined influences of environmental variability and disturbance history on forest structure and composition in the Cummins Creek Wilderness, located on the central Oregon coast. Climatic and topographic variables explained the majority of hillslope community composition, while fire history explained most of the variability in hillslope forest structure. Forest structure and composition in riparian areas was related to a climatic gradient as well as position in the stream network. The abundance of two fire-sensitive species, Tsuga heterophylla (western hemlock) and Picea sitchensis (Sitka spruce), decreased with distance from old-growth patches, possibly reflecting a seed dispersal gradient that occurred following fires 80 to 140 years ago. I developed predictive maps of understory conifer patterns using remote sensing, aerial photographs, digital elevation models and stream maps. I predicted P. sitchensis regeneration based on distance from the coast and topography, and T. heterophylla regeneration based on crown size, percent hardwood composition, topography, and distance from old-growth patches. Although I found statistically significant relationships between understory patterns and GIS predictor variables, the models explained only low to moderate amounts of the overall variability. Landscape-scale simulations of T. heterophylla showed that population expansion through gap-phase recruitment was limited by short seed dispersal distances in closed-canopy forests, the requirement for canopy gap disturbances to facilitate overstory recruitment, and the lag between recruitment and reproduction. Although fine-scale habitat features can influence the amount of regeneration in a gap when seed sources are present, the fire regime may ultimately control the abundance of T. heterophylla at the landscape scale through dispersal limitations. Brief increases in fire frequency can cause a sustained decrease in the amount of T. heterophylla on the landscape once fire frequency is reduced below a threshold value. Our results emphasize the complexity and diversity of forest vegetation at the watershed scale. Environmental variability, disturbance history, and dispersal limitations have all played a role in creating the current landscape patterns in the Cummins Creek Wilderness.
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