Date: 12 Mar 2014

Secondary edge effects in regenerating forest landscapes: vegetation and microclimate patterns and their implications for management and conservation

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Abstract

Forest regrowth is expected to gradually mitigate edge effects in forest landscapes fragmented by timber harvest, but our understanding of edge effect persistence and dynamics over time is still incomplete. Our main objective was to take a critical look at the role of forest regrowth in mitigating the initial edge effects on microclimate and understory vegetation in northern hardwood forests of the eastern United States. We compared canopy closure, hourly air temperature, soil moisture, and understory vegetation at increasing distances from forest edges (0, 5, 10, 20, and 30 m) along twelve transects placed across new and older forest edges (3–4 or 16–19 years old) created by forest harvest. Open, new forest edges exhibited pronounced edge effects on microclimate and shade-intolerant plants, but these were almost completely moderated by forest regrowth on the cleared side of older edges where dense young forest developed with a new canopy comparable in cover to adjacent mature forest. There were no initial edge effects on shade-tolerant vegetation across new forest edges, but the shade-tolerant vegetation declined in mature forest near old forest edges adjacent to dense young forest that supported only sparse understory vegetation. These delayed secondary edge effects of young dense forests on adjacent mature forests have not been previously documented and they should be more explicitly included in forest management considerations. We suggest an integrated system for managing and mitigating both the immediate primary and delayed secondary edge effects in those working forest landscapes where biodiversity conservation is of high priority.