New cohort growth and survival in variable retention harvests of a pine ecosystem in Minnesota, USA

Rebecca A. Montgomery, Brian J. Palik, Suzanne B. Boyden, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


There is significant interest in silvicultural systems such as variable retention harvesting (VRH) that emulate natural disturbance and increase structural complexity, spatial heterogeneity, and biological diversity in managed forests. However, the consequences of variable retention harvesting for new cohort growth and survival are not well characterized in many forest ecosystems. Moreover, the relative importance of resource preemption by existing ground layer vegetation after variable retention harvests is unclear. We addressed both in a VRH experiment implemented as a randomized block design replicated four times in red pine forest in Minnesota, USA. Treatments included a thinning with residual trees dispersed evenly throughout the stand (dispersed) and two patch cuts that left 0.1. ha gaps (small gap) or 0.3. ha gaps (large gap) in a forest matrix. Residual basal area was held near constant in the three harvest treatments. We planted seedlings of three common pines (Pinus banksiana, P. strobus and P. resinosa) and measured light, soil nutrients and growth over seven growing seasons. We hypothesized that forests with equivalent average structures (e.g., basal area) would have higher stand-level seedling growth and survival in aggregated retention versus dispersed retention stands. However, variable retention harvest resulted in relatively small differences in growth and survival across the three retention treatments (although all differed as expected from uncut controls). Species specific responses to overstory treatments were partially related to shade tolerance. Tolerant white pine had high survival across all overstory treatments whereas intolerant red and jack pine had lower survival in uncut controls. In general, jack pine had the strongest growth response to reduction of overstory density. However, both white and jack pine achieved highest growth in the dispersed treatment despite differences in shade tolerance. Regardless of species, shrubs had a strong impact on seedling growth. Indeed, differences in growth were often larger across shrub treatments than among retention treatments. Our results support the hypothesis that shrubs preempt resources and dampen the impacts of different overstory retention patterns on new cohort growth and survival. Our results imply that managers have considerable flexibility to employ various types of retention patterns coupled with planting in red pine ecosystems at least at the levels of retention studied here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-335
Number of pages9
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Dec 15 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Christel Kern, Kathryn Lang, Doug Kastendick, and Susan Barrott for field crew supervision and data organization, and Kelly Barrett and Barb Knight of the Chippewa National Forest for logistic support. Doris Nelson assisted with soil nutrient analyses. Thanks to the numerous students and members of short-term field crews for field data collection. Funding was provided by USDA NRI CREES Award No. 2006-35101-17061, the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, the Wilderness Research Foundation, and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station MIN-42-074.


  • Aggregate retention
  • Dispersed retention
  • Ecological forestry
  • Pinus banksiana
  • Pinus resinosa
  • Pinus strobus


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