Altered structural development and accelerated succession from intermediate-scale wind disturbance in Quercus stands on the Cumberland Plateau, USA


Natural disturbances play important roles in shaping the structure and composition of all forest ecosystems and can be used to inform silvicultural practices. Canopy disturbances are often classified along a gradient ranging from highly localized, gap-scale events to stand-replacing events. Wind storms such as downbursts, derechos, and low intensity tornadoes typically result in disturbance that would fall near the center of this gradient and result in intermediate-scale disturbances. Despite their frequency and widespread occurrence, relatively little is known about how intermediate-scale disturbances influence stand development and succession. On 20 April 2011, the Sipsey Wilderness in Alabama was affected by an EF1 tornado with accompanying straight-line winds. In the third growing season after the disturbance, stands were sampled in a stratified subjective sampling design to evaluate the effects of intermediate-scale wind disturbance on structural and successional development of Quercus stands. We established 109 0.04 ha plots across a gradient of disturbance grouped into three classes, control (considered to represent pre-disturbance conditions using a space-for-time substitution), light, and moderate categories, to examine the effect of the intermediate-scale wind disturbance. Basal area was reduced from 25.7 m2 ha1 to 23.7 m2 ha1 and 15.3 m2 ha1 for light and moderate disturbance classes, respectively. Logistic regression revealed an increasing probability of mortality during wind disturbance with increasing tree diameter. This intermediate-scale disturbance increased intra-stand heterogeneity and altered the developmental pathway. The stands did not structurally resemble one of the four widely accepted stages of stand development. The disturbance also accelerated succession and released shade-tolerant taxa that were established in midstory and understory strata prior the event.

  • Citation: White, Stephen D; Hart, Justin L.; Schweitzer, Callie J.; Dey, Daniel C. 2015. Altered structural development and accelerated succession from intermediate-scale wind disturbance in Quercus stands on the Cumberland Plateau, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 336:52–64.
  • Keywords: Quercus; Disturbance; Development; Structure; Succession; Wind
  • Posted Date: November 4, 2014
  • Modified Date: January 15, 2015
  • Requesting Print Publications

    Publication requests are subject to availability. Fiscal responsibility limits the hardcopies of publications we produce and distribute. Electronic versions of publications may be downloaded, distributed and printed.

    Please make any requests at

    Publication Notes

    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
    • Our online publications are scanned and captured using Adobe Acrobat. During the capture process some typographical errors may occur. Please contact the SRS webmaster if you notice any errors which make this publication unusable.
    • To view this article, download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader.