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Wind is one of the most important natural disturbances influencing forest structure, ecosystem function, and successional processes worldwide. This study quantifies the stand-scale effects of intermediate-severity windstorms (i.e., blowdowns) on (1) live and dead legacy structure, (2) aboveground carbon storage, and (3) tree regeneration and associated stand dynamics at four mature, mixed hardwood–conifer forest sites in the northeastern United States. We compare wind-affected forests to adjacent reference conditions (i.e., undisturbed portions of the same stands) 0–8 yr post-blowdown using parametric (ANOVA) and nonparametric (NMS ordination) analyses. We supplement inventory plots and downed coarse woody detritus (DCWD) transects with hemispherical photography to capture spatial variation in the light environment. Although recent blowdowns transferred a substantial proportion of live overstory trees to DCWD, residual live tree basal area was high (19–59% of reference areas). On average, the initial post-blowdown ratio of DCWD carbon to standing live tree carbon was 2.72 in blowdown stands and 0.18 in reference stands, indicating a large carbon transfer from live to dead pools. Despite these dramatic changes, structural complexity remained high in blowdown areas, as indicated by the size and species distributions of overstory trees, abundance of sound and rotten downed wood, spatial patterns of light availability, and variability of understory vegetation. Furthermore, tree species composition was similar between blowdown and reference areas at each site, with generally shade-tolerant species dominating across multiple canopy strata. Community response to intermediate-severity blowdown at these sites suggests a dynamic in which disturbance maintains late-successional species composition rather than providing a regeneration opportunity for shade-intolerant, pioneer species. Our findings suggest that intermediate-severity wind disturbances can contribute to stand-scale structural complexity as well as development toward late-successional species composition, at least when shade-tolerant regeneration is present pre-blowdown. Advance regeneration thus enhances structural and compositional resilience to this type of disturbance. This study provides a baseline for multi-cohort silvicultural systems designed to restore heterogeneity associated with natural disturbance dynamics.

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© 2018 by the Ecological Society of America



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