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Insect infestations and the persistence and functioning of oak-pine mixedwood forests in the mid-Atlantic region, USA

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Clark, Kenneth L.; Aoki, Carissa ; Ayres, Matthew ; Kabrick, John ; Gallagher, Michael R.

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Damage from infestations of Lymantria dispar L. in oak-dominated stands and southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis Zimmermann) in pine-dominated stands have far exceeded impacts of other disturbances in forests of the mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain over the last two decades. We used forest census data collected in undisturbed and insect-impacted stands combined with eddy covariance measurements made pre- and post-disturbance in oak-, mixed and pine-dominated stands to quantify how these infestations altered forest composition, structure and carbon dynamics in the Pinelands National Reserve of southern New Jersey. In oak-dominated stands, multi-year defoliation during L. dispar infestations resulted in > 40% mortality of oak trees and the release of pine saplings and understory vegetation, while tree mortality was minimal in mixed and pine-dominated stands. In pine-dominated stands, southern pine beetle infestations resulted in > 85% mortality of pine trees but had minimal effect on oaks in upland stands or other hardwoods in lowland stands, and only rarely infested pines in hardwood-dominated stands. Because insect-driven disturbances are both delaying and accelerating succession in stands dominated by a single genus but having less effect in mixed-composition stands, long-term disturbance dynamics are favoring the formation and persistence of uneven age oak-pine mixedwood stands. Changes in forest composition may have little impact on forest productivity and evapotranspiration; although seasonal patterns differ, with highest daily rates of net ecosystem production (NEP) during the growing season occurring in an oak-dominated stand and lowest in a pinedominated stand, integrated annual rates of NEP are similar among oak-, mixed and pinedominated stands. Our research documents the formation of mixedwood stands as a consequence of insect infestations in the mid-Atlantic region and suggests that managing for mixedwood stands could reduce damage to forest products and provide greater continuity in ecosystem functioning.


Clark, Kenneth L.; Aoki, Carissa; Ayres, Matthew; Kabrick, John; Gallagher, Michael R. 2022. Insect infestations and the persistence and functioning of oak-pine mixedwood forests in the mid-Atlantic region, USA. PLOS ONE. 17(5): e0265955. 24 p.

Last updated on: May 30, 2022