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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2008

  • Title: The Rise and Fall of Plantation Forestry at Harvard Forest
  • Primary Author: Audrey Barker Plotkin (Harvard Forest)
  • Additional Authors: Nicole Mercier (University of Maine)
  • Abstract:

    Plantations have been part of forestry at Harvard Forest since its beginning. Plantations were established from 1911-1944, usually on open or cut-over land. The objectives for plantation forests at Harvard Forest were to: increase amount of productive forest land; examine the suitability of various species and cultivars to New England conditions; and test planting and tending methods. At first, mainly small plantings (<1-4 acres) were established primarily on “blank” lands. Some larger plantations (20+ acres) were established on cut-over land around 1930.

    The bulk of the plantings were red pine, white pine and spruce (white and Norway), but several other conifers were also planted. The maximum amount of land in plantations came to about 270 acres (less than 10% of Harvard Forest’s land base). Tending of the plantations, especially weeding in the decade following establishment, but also in-filling, pruning and thinning, was conducted and carefully documented. However, tending of plantations ceased about 1950.

    Since then, the fate of the plantations has been mixed. Some plantations were out-competed by native forest with only scattered planted trees remaining. A few acres of plantations were harvested in the 1950s. About 40 acres of plantations were harvested in the 1990s. As of 2007, approximately 135 acres remained. These stands range in age from 60-90 years old. Some stands have substantial areas blown down. We developed a management plan to harvest about 80 acres of mature plantation forests (Figure 1) beginning in 2008 in order to terminate these long term experiments, to regenerate a diversity of native tree species and restore native forests to these sites, and to initiate a new suite of long term experiments. For the next 10-15 years, the harvested areas will provide early successional habitat for a variety of wildlife species.

    A suite of permanent vegetation plots was established throughout the plantations to assess vegetation structure in plantations and predict future dynamics in harvested and early seral habitats. An initial objective of the baseline survey was to characterize current tree regeneration and understory flora that will in large part determine the future composition of these forests as the overstory is harvested or senesces.

    Plantations are generally considered to have low biodiversity. In these sites, we found that plantations have 20-30% less species richness than native forests, and spruce plantations generally have less species richness than pine plantations.

    Understory community composition showed some patterns among plantation types. An ordination analysis of understory flora cover suggested that understory community composition is similar among spruce plantations whereas red pine plantations did not exhibit a strong pattern of similarity, possibly due to the diversity of management histories in the red pine plantations.

    While there are some naturally regenerated seedlings and saplings of the non-native plantation species, none is likely to be self-sustaining (Figure 2). Red pine seedlings and sapling are rarely found. Spruce regeneration is present only as seedlings, absent from sapling size regeneration. Whether or not the stands are harvested, the sites will primarily revert back to native tree species that seed in or emerge from established root systems.

  • Research Category: Biodiversity Studies, Large Experiments and Permanent Plot Studies

  • Figures:
  • C:dataforestmanagementplantationspln-harvest-map-overview-nov07.pdf