Wind-throw mortality in the southern boreal forest: Effects of species, diameter and stand age

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1. Patterns of tree mortality as influenced by species, diameter and stand age were assessed across a gradient in wind disturbance intensity in a southern boreal forest in Minnesota, USA. Few previous studies have addressed how wind impacts boreal forests where fire was historically the dominant type of disturbance. 2. We surveyed 29 334 trees of nine species within a 236 000 ha blowdown in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), in forests that have never been logged and were not salvaged after the windstorm. Within the disturbed area, a range of disturbance severity from zero to complete canopy mortality was present, overlaying an existing mosaic of fire origin stands. For this study, we derived an index of wind disturbance intensity by standardizing the observed disturbance severity using common species with similar diameter at breast height (d.b.h.) distributions. We then used multiple logistic regression to assess patterns of tree mortality across gradients in tree size and wind intensity index, and for three stand ages. 3. Probability of mortality was higher with increasing ln d.b.h. for all nine species, with two species (Abies balsamea and Picea mariana) showing much more dramatic shifts in mortality with d.b.h. than the others. As hypothesized, the species most susceptible to windthrow at all d.b.h. classes were early successional and shade intolerant (Pinus banksiana, Pinus resinosa, Populus tremuloides) and those least susceptible were generally shade tolerant (e.g. Thuja occidentalis, Acer rubrum), although the intolerant species Betula papyrifera also had low mortality. 4. Mortality rates were higher in mature (c. 90 years old) stands than for old and very old (c. 126-200 years old) stands, probably because old stands had already gone through transition to a multi-aged stage of development. 5. Synthesis. Quantification of canopy mortality patterns generally supports disturbance-mediated accelerated succession following wind disturbance in the southern boreal forest. This wind-induced weeding of the forest favoured Thuja occidentalis, Betula papyrifera and Acer rubrum trees of all sizes, along with small Abies balsamea and Picea mariana trees. Overall, the net impact of wind disturbance must concurrently consider species mortality probability, abundance and diameter distributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1261-1273
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2007


  • Boreal forest
  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)
  • Forest dynamics
  • Mortality
  • Stand age
  • Susceptibility
  • Wind disturbance
  • Wind-throw


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