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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Sustaining Forests

Catastrophic Wind Disturbance

Research Issue

Gap created following a severe windstorm in July 2003.Many thousands of hectares of forestlands are salvaged after disturbances in North America. The bulk of the limited research on salvaging has occurred in the Western US and in boreal forest and has focused almost exclusively on post-fire salvaging. In eastern forests, severe wind disturbances are common and salvaging occurs after these disturbances. The Allegheny Plateau region alone receives an average of 11 high wind events and one tornado per year (National Climate Data Center) making wind the predominant natural disturbance event. Given the ubiquity of storm damage and salvaging on the Allegheny and elsewhere, there is a surprising paucity of experimental work demonstrating the impact of salvage logging on post-disturbance forest regeneration patterns. 

Our Research

We are currently testing how regeneration patterns following wind disturbance in both salvaged and unsalvaged areas so as to assess whether or not salvaging homogenizes the post-disturbance landscape, alters succession, or impoverishes forest plant communities. Furthermore, we are assessing how deer browsing may alter regeneration patterns in windthrow gap areas in the context of salvage logging. Specifically, we are testing whether post-disturbance succession will follow the long-established patterns suggested by shade-tolerance theory or whether species composition will be largely determined by browse-tolerance rather than shade-tolerance. We are examining these questions a large number of naturally occurring gaps ranging in size from less than 1 ha to as large as 40 ha created during a major windstorm in the Allegheny National Forest, PA on July 2003 and in a new study at the Powdermill Nature Reserve (Carnegie Museum of Natural History) following a tornado in June 2012.  Within these study sites we salvage logged half of each gap and left the other half unsalvaged (control) in order to rigorously evaluate the degree that salvaging is or is not inimical to healthy forest regeneration.

Expected Outcomes

Results from this work will provide much needed information as to the potential impacts of salvage logging in eastern forests. Research results from the Allegheny National Forest salvage experiment have already shown that salvage logging exerts a short-term (~5 year) delay in forest recovery; however, ultimately forest regeneration on the salvaged half is equivalent to that on the unsalvaged control. Overall, this information will be critical to private, state, and federal forest resource management agencies as they continue their efforts to responsibly manage forests in the region.

Research Results

Royo, Alejandro A.; Peterson, Chris J.; Stanovick, John S.; Carson, Walter P. 2016. Evaluating the ecological impacts of salvage logging: can natural and anthropogenic disturbances promote coexistence? Ecology. 97(6): 1566-1582.

Peterson, Chris J.; Krueger, Lisa M.; Royo, Alejandro A.; Stark, Scott; Carson, Walter P. 2013. Disturbance size and severity covary in small and mid-size wind disturbances in Pennsylvania northern hardwoods forests. Forest Ecology and Management. 302: 273-279.

Krueger, Lisa M.; Peterson, Chris J.; Royo, Alejandro; Carson, Walter P. 2009. Evaluating relationships among tree growth rate, shade tolerance, and browse tolerance following disturbance in an eastern deciduous forest. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 39:2460-2469.

Evans, A. M., A. E. Camp, M. L. Tyrrell, and C. C. Riely. 2007. Biotic and abiotic influences on wind disturbance in forests of NW Pennsylvania, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 245:44-53.

Evans, A. M., M. L. Tyrrell, A. E. Camp, and C. C. Riely. 2005. Vulnerability of Northwestern Pennsylvania Forests to Major Windstorms. Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven, CT.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Alejandro A. Royo, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station Research Ecologist
  • Susan Stout, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station Project Leader/Research Forester

Research Partners

Last Modified: 08/16/2017