Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

One Hundred Years of Recovery of a Pine Forest in Northern Wisconsin

Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

One Hundred Years of Recovery of a Pine Forest in Northern Wisconsin

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT.-Following logging and fire during 1890-1897 in an old-growth pine (primarily Pines strobes and P resinosa) stand near Found Lake in northeastern Wisconsin, the pattern and rate of forest succession was determined between 1950 and 1997. The original forest was reconstructed from analysis of stumps remaining in 1950. The study of stumps was a feasible retrospective approach to a detailed analysis of the variability and patchwork nature of the original (Before White Settlers, BWS) pine forests in northern Wisconsin. White birch (Betula papyrifera) and aspen (Populus spp.) dominated the Found Lake stand for about 80 y following logging and fire. Based on the Importance Value of trees and saplings, and basal area of trees, white pine (P strobes) and especially red pine (P resinosa) have begun to reemerge as dominant species in the study area some 100 y after catastrophic disturbance. The abundance of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) trees has increased dramatically in recent years in the study area. Although variable, radial tree growth peaked consistently at 2-5 mm ring increment/y during the middle decades (1925-1960) of recovery for aspen, white birch, white pine and red oak (Quercus rubra borealis).

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea), sugar maple and white spruce (Picea glauca) are now (1997) predominant in the understory of the forest stand as saplings. This composition of the sapling layer suggests that in the absence of fire in the future the pines would eventually give way to balsam fir, sugar maple and white spruce.


There are relatively few quantitative studies on the nature of the old-growth3 pine forests (Before White Settlers: BWS) in the northern, midwestern U.S. (Roth, 1898; Stearns, 1950, 1951; Spurr, 1954; Hushen et al., 1966; Kapp, 1978; Whitney, 1986, 1987). Such information would help to understand the complex mixture of secondary communities that have developed and exist today, following the wholesale destruction of these pine forests in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they were harvested, cleared and burned (Roth, 1898). The role of chance in influencing rates of historical destruction and patterns of recovery in these northern forests is important, but is quantitatively unknown and certainly imprecise in application on a regional scale. Information about ecosystem recovery following major disturbance, such as logging of a forest, is also critical for guiding sustainable management or restoration of such complex ecosystems in the future.

The rarity of really long-term (e.g., >50 y) sustained studies in ecology has diminished our abilities for interpretation and integration. As a result, most ecological understanding is based upon integration of information from short-term studies or from information obtained from alternative approaches to direct long-term studies, such as retrospective studies (tree ring analysis or sediment cores), space-for-time substitution, experimentation and modeling (see Likens, 1989).

General land office (GLO) surveyors' records have provided one source of information for the historical forests of the upper, midwestern and northeastern U.S. (e.g., Lutz, 1930; Spurr, 1954; Curtis, 1959; Whitney, 1986, 1994), but these records have limitations for detailed work, since the "sampling" was relatively coarse (based on section and quarter-section points at mile- or half-mile intervals, respectively) and depended on samples (two or more "bearing" trees) at these survey corners (e.g., see Stearns, 1949). Another approach was the analysis of stumps remaining after lumbering and/or fire. Stumps and stubs have provided some useful data in historical studies of forests in the upper Midwest and in New England and Pennsylvania (Heinselman, 1981; Whitney, 1986, 1994). Analysis of stumps provides information at a finer scale than the GLO approach.

Here we attempt to reconstruct the composition and dimensions of an old-growth, pine forest stand in northern Wisconsin and follow its succession for about 100 y to the present time. …

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