Hurricane effects on climate-adaptive silviculture treatments to longleaf pine woodland in southwestern Georgia, USA

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The Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) network tests silvicultural treatments to promote ‘resistance’ or ‘resilience’ to climate change or speed ‘transition’ to new forest types. Based on projected increases in air temperatures and within-season dry periods in southeastern USA, we installed resistance, resilience and transition treatments involving species selection and varied intensities of density reduction, plus an untreated control, in mixed longleaf pine-hardwood woodland in southwest Georgia USA. Within a year of treatment a tropical cyclone, Hurricane Michael, exposed the site to the unforeseen climatic stress of >44-m s−1 winds. We measured inventory plots post-cyclone and compared the data to pre-storm and pre-treatment values. We analysed stand density index (metric SDI, species maximum value = 1000), stand complexity index (SCI), composition and individual tree characteristics. The ASCC treatments decreased both SDI (from 220 to 124 in the transition treatment) and SCI. The cyclone did not greatly decrease SDI (mean decrease 4.5 per cent) and decreased SCI only in the Controls. Xeric hardwoods were more prone to damage than other functional groups, and ordination showed that the cyclone shifted species composition to greater longleaf pine dominance. Taller trees were more likely to be damaged, except in the resilience treatment, which had a relatively large representation of shorter, more easily damaged xeric hardwoods. The open canopy of the longleaf-hardwood woodland, only 22 per cent of maximum SDI before treatment, evidently fostered wind-firmness, thereby limit- ing the destructive effect of the cyclone. The sensitivity of xeric hardwoods to hurricane damage suggests that there may be a trade-off between wind tolerance and drought tolerance among functional groups. Maintaining a mixture of drought and wind-resistant species, as in the resilience treatments, may provide broader insurance against multiple climate change impacts in longleaf pine and other forested systems dominated by a single foundation species.

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Publication Date
Seth W. Bigelow, Christopher E. Looney, and Jeffery B. Cannon
Published in
Forestry 2021; 94, 395–406