Demand for forest bioenergy fuel is increasing in the northern forest region of eastern North America and beyond, but ecological impacts, particularly on habitat, of bioenergy harvesting remain poorly explored in the peer-reviewed literature. Here, we evaluated the impacts of bioenergy harvests on stand structure, including several characteristics considered important for biodiversity and habitat functions. We collected stand structure data from 35 recent harvests in northern hardwood-conifer forests, pairing harvested areas with unharvested reference areas. Biometrics generated from field data were analyzed using a multi-tiered nonparametric uni-and multivariate statistical approach. In analyses comparing harvested to reference areas, sites that had been whole-tree harvested demonstrated significant differences (relative negative contrasts, P < 0.05) in snag density, large live-tree density, well-decayed downed coarse woody debris volume, and structural diversity index (H) values, while sites that had not been whole-tree harvested did not exhibit significant differences. Classification and regression tree (CART) analyses suggested that the strongest predictors of structural retention, as indicated by downed woody debris volumes and H index, were silvicultural treatment and equipment type rather than the percentage of harvested volume allocated to bioenergy uses. In general, bioenergy harvesting impacts were highly variable across the study sites, suggesting a need for harvesting guidelines aimed at encouraging retention of ecologically important structural attributes. © 2012 by the Ecological Society of America.
© 2012 by the Ecological Society of America
Littlefield CE, Keeton WS. Bioenergy harvesting impacts on ecologically important stand structure and habitat characteristics. Ecological Applications. 2012 Oct;22(7):1892-909.