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

Sustaining Forests

Sustaining Central Hardwood Forests

Research Issue

[photo:] The forest landscape of the Missouri Ozark Highlands in the Central Hardwood Region is diverse with a mixture of oak/mixed hardwood/shortleaf pine forests and woodlands.

A number of challenges to sustain central hardwood forests face managers today. For example, it is difficult to sustain the current level of oak stocking in mature forests in many areas, especially on more productive sites. Oak species are often replaced by either more shade-tolerant species such as maples, or by fast growing species such as tulip tree (yellow-poplar) when forests are regenerated either by managed harvesting or natural disturbances. This is a problem in both upland and bottomland forests.

Shortleaf pine was a once prominent species in our Missouri Ozark forests occurring on about 6 million acres, but today pine is present on only 10% of the original area. Sustaining pine in natural stands with hardwoods is problematic. Historically, plantation management was used successfully to grow pine, and research has shed much light on how to do that. But answers are still needed for how to regenerate and grow pine in natural forests where they face a high degree of competition from hardwoods.

Regeneration of pines and oaks is the foundation of sustaining these species on the landscape and to restoring them to areas where they once occurred. Much of our research addresses various key issues concerning managing forest regeneration so that the future forest has the desire species composition. Understanding how different combinations of site factors influence forest regeneration and interact with specific management practices (prescribed burning, harvesting, and thinning) is important to making site-specific management recommendations.

Our Research

We conduct numerous individual studies to explore specific aspects of oak and pine regeneration and to assess different combinations of silvicultural practices (vegetation management to control competing species using herbicides, prescribed burning or mechanical cutting) with regeneration methods (clearcut, shelterwood, group selection, single-tree selection). We make recommendations for regenerating forests to favor oak and pine species to sustain or increase their presence in the forest. A review of our many publications will direct readers to specific problems and their practical solutions. Much of the synthesis of our research is embodied in a recent update (2nd edition) of The Ecology and Silviculture of Oaks

Expected Outcomes

Our longstanding efforts in the research on the ecology and silviculture of oak and pine forests of the Central Hardwood Region is the foundation for many of the recommendations made today to sustain these valuable forests. The threat of a catastrophic decline of oak in the Central Hardwood Region as well as throughout the eastern United States is great and would lead to a substantial loss of biodiversity of species dependent on oak and pine forests. Application of the knowledge in forest ecology and silviculture derived from our research can stop the loss of oak and pine species and improve the biological and economic productivity of our forests on both public and private lands. It is important that practical solutions to the problems in oak and pine regeneration and sustainability be useful to private landowners because they own most of the forest resource in the eastern United States.

Research Results

Schweitzer, C.J.; Dey, D.C. 2011. Residual stand characterization of structure and composition following initial shelterwood harvests in a mid-Cumberland Plateau escarpment forest, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 262: 1729-1741.

Villwock, J.L.; Kabrick, J.M.; McNab, W.H.; Dey, D.C. 2011. Landform and terrain shape indices are related to oak site index in the Missouri Ozarks. In: Proceedings: 17th Central Hardwood Forest Conference. GTR-NRS-P-78. Newtown Square, PA. USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station: 197-207.

Weigel, D.R.; Dey, D.C.; Peng, C-Y. J. 2011. Stump sprout dominance probabilities of five oak species in southern Indiana 20 years after clearcut harvesting. In Proceedings: 17th Central Hardwood Forest Conference. Newtown Square, PA. USDA Forest Service NRS-GTR-P-78: 10-22.

Dey, D.C.; Royo, A.A.; Brose, P.H., Hutchinson, T.F.; Spetich, M.A.; Stoleson, S.H. 2010. An ecologically based approach to oak silviculture: a synthesis of 50 years of oak ecosystem research in North America. Colombia Forestal 13(2): 201-222.

Motsinger, J.R.; Kabrick, J.M.; Dey, D.C.; Henderson, D.E.; Zenner, E.K. 2010. Effect of midstory and understory removal on the establishment and development of natural and artificial pin oak advance reproduction in bottomland forests. New Forests 39: 195-213.

Larsen, D.R.; Dey, D.C.; Faust, T. 2010. A stocking diagram for Midwestern eastern cottonwood-silver maple-American sycamore bottomland forests. Northern Journal Applied Forestry 27(4): 132-139.

Dey, D.C.; Fan, Z. 2009. A review of fire and oak regeneration and overstory recruitment. In: Hutchinson, T.F., ed. Proceedings of the 3rd Ffire in Eastern Oak Forests Conference; 2008 May 20-22; Carbondale, IL. NRS-GTR-P-46. Newtown Square, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 2-20.

Dey, D.C.; Spetich, M.A.; Weigel, D.R.; Johnson, P.S.; Graney, D.L.; Kabrick, J.M. 2009. A suggested approach for design of oak (Quercus L.) regeneration research considering regional differences. New Forests 37: 123-135.

Dey, D.C.; Jacobs, D.F.; McNabb, K.; Miller, G.W.; Baldwin, V.C.; Foster, G.S.; Bridgwater, F. 2008. Artificial regeneration of major oak (Quercus) species in the eastern United States: a review of the literature. Forest Science 54(1): 77-106.

Dey, D.C.; Jensen, R.G.; Wallendorf, M.J. 2008. Single-tree harvesting reduces survival and growth of oak stump sprouts in the Missouri Ozark Highlands. In: Jacobs, D.F.; Michler, C.H. (eds.) Proceedings, 16th Central Hardwood Forest Conference; 2008 April 8-9; West Lafayette, IN. NRS-GTR-P-24. Newtown Square, PA: USDA, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 26-37.

Dey, D.C.; Miller, G.W.; Kabrick, J.M. 2008. Sustaining northern red oak forests: Managing oak from regeneration to canopy dominance in mature stands. In: Deal, R.L. (tech. ed.) Proceedings: 2007 National Silviculture Workshop. PNW-GTR-733. Portland, OR: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 91-105.

Kabrick, J.M.; Dey, D.C.; Jensen, R.G.; Wallendorf, M. 2008. The role of environmental factors in oak decline and mortality in the Ozark Highlands. Forest Ecology and Management 255: 1409-1417.

Kabrick, J.M.; Zenner, E.K.; Dey, D.C.; Gwaze, D.; Jensen, R.G. 2008. Using ecological land types to examine landscape-scale oak regeneration dynamics. Forest Ecology and Management 255: 3051-3062.

Parker, W.C.; Dey, D.C. 2008. Influence of overstory density on ecophysiology of red oak (Quercus rubra) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) seedlings in central Ontario shelterwoods. Tree Physiology 28: 797-804.

Stambaugh, M.C.; Guyette, R.P.; Dey, D.C. 2007. What fire frequency is appropriate for shortleaf pine regeneration and survival? In: Kabrick, J.M.; Dey, D.C.; Gwaze, D. (eds.). NRS-GTR-P-15. Newtown Square, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 121-128.

Weigel, D.R.; Dey, D.C. 2007. Fifteen years of stump sprout development for five oak species in southern Indiana. In: Proceedings: 15th Central Hardwood Forest Conference. SRS-GTR-101. Asheville, NC: USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station: 553-559.

Weigel, D.R.; Dey, D.C.; Peng, C-Y J. 2006. Stump sprout dominance probabilities of five oak species in southern Indiana 15 years after clearcut harvesting. In: Connor, K.F. (ed.) Proceedings: 13th Biennial Southern Silvicultural Research Conference. Asheville, NC: USDA Forest Service. SRS-GTR-92: 551-558

Bellocq, M.I.; Jones, C.; Dey, D.C.; Turgeon, J.J. 2005. Does the shelterwood method to regenerate oak forests affect acorn production and predation? Forest Ecology and Management 205: 311-323.

Dey, D.C.; Hartman, G. 2005. Returning fire to Ozark Highland forest ecosystems: effects on advance regeneration. Forest Ecology and Management 217: 37-53.

Dey, D.; Kabrick, J. 2004. Regenerating oaks in Missouri’s bottomlands. Missouri Conservationist 65(7): 18-22.

Dey, D. 2002. The ecological basis for oak silviculture in eastern North America. In: McShea, W.J.; Healy, W.M. (eds.) Oak Forest Ecosystems: Ecology and Management for Wildlife. Baltimore, MD. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Spetich, M.A.; Dey, D.C.; Johnson, P.S.; Graney, D.L. 2002. Competitive capacity of Quercus rubra L. planted in Arkansas’ Boston Mountains. Forest Science 48(3):504-517

Dey, D.C.; Parker, W.C. 1997.  Morphological indicators of stock quality and performance of red oak (Quercus rubra L.) seedlings underplanted in a central Ontario shelterwood. New Forest 14:145-156.

Dey, D.C.; Parker, W.C. 1997. Overstory density affects on the performance of underplanted red oak (Quercus rubra L.) in Ontario. Northern Journal Applied Forestry 14(3):120-125.

Dey, D.C.; Johnson, P.S.; Garrett, H.E. 1996. Modeling the regeneration of oak stands in the Missouri Ozark Highlands. Canadian Journal Forest Research 26(4):573-583.

Dey, D.C.; Ter-Mikaelian, M.; Johnson, P.S.; Shifley, S.R. 1996. Users guide to ACORn: a comprehensive Ozark regeneration simulator. NC-GTR-180. St. Paul, MN: USDA Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. 35 p.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Daniel C. Dey, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Research Forester
  • John M. Kabrick, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Research Forester
  • Steve R. Shifley, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Research Forester

Research Partners


Last Modified: 01/24/2012