Forest dynamics encompass changes in stand structure, species composition, and species interactions with disturbance and environment over a range of spatial and temporal scales. For convenience, spatial scale is defined as individual tree, neighborhood, stand, and landscape. Whether a given canopy-leveling disturbance will initiate a sequence of development in structure with little change in composition or initiate an episode of succession depends on a match or mismatch, respectively, with traits of the dominant tree species that allow the species to survive disturbance. When these match, certain species-disturbance type combinations lock in a pattern of stand and landscape dynamics that can persist for several generations of trees; thus, dominant tree species regulate, as well as respond to, disturbance. A complex interaction among tree species, neighborhood effects, disturbance type and severity, landform, and soils determines how stands of differing composition form and the mosaic of stands that compose the landscape. Neighborhood effects (e.g., serotinous seed rain, sprouting, shading, leaf-litter chemistry, and leaf-litter physical properties) operate at small spatial extents of the individual tree and its neighbors but play a central role in forest dynamics by contributing to patch formation at stand scales and dynamics of the entire landscape. Dominance by tree species with neutral to negative neighborhood effects leads to unstable landscape dynamics in disturbance-prone regions, wherein most stands are undergoing succession; stability can only occur under very low-severity disturbance regimes. Dominance by species with positive effects leads to stable landscape dynamics wherein only a small proportion of stands undergo succession at any one time. Positive neighborhood effects are common in temperate and boreal zones, whereas negative effects are more common in tropical climates. Landscapes with positive dynamics have alternate categories of dynamics stabilized by high-severity and low-severity disturbance regimes. Contrary to prevailing ecological theory, systems with positive neighborhood effects can have similar levels of compositional stability across tree, stand, and landscape scales. Neighborhood effect theory can help explain responses of landscapes to large-scale land clearing and novel effects brought on by factors such as invasive species and deer overabundance.
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© 2016 Frelich L.