Disturbance history, species diversity, and structural complexity of a temperate deciduous forest

  • Jonathan D. GoodeEmail author
  • Carson R. Barefoot
  • Justin L. Hart
  • Daniel C. Dey
Original Paper


Stand structural complexity enhancement is an increasingly popular management objective, especially on public lands. Complex stand structures are hypothesized to support a relatively high degree of native forest diversity and be more resistant and resilient to disturbances. Complex structures are characterized by the presence of deadwood and heterogeneity of tree-size classes and tree architecture. Relatively little is known about how discrete disturbance events affect structural complexity and compositional diversity in Quercus-dominated stands at fine spatial scales (i.e. neighborhoods). We established 20 0.05 ha fixed-radius plots on the Sipsey Wilderness of William B. Bankhead National Forest in northern Alabama to quantify woody plant species composition and structure. Trees were mapped on each plot to quantify overstory structural complexity and compositional diversity. We extracted two cores from all canopy Quercus spp. ≥ 5 cm diameter at breast height to quantify age, recruitment pulses, and reconstruct canopy disturbance history. Shannon species diversity in the sampled area was 1.75 for trees, 2.08 for saplings, and 1.69 for seedlings. Quercus alba had the greatest basal area, and Ostrya virginiana had the highest density. The stand exhibited a reverse J-shaped distribution with a q-factor of 1.72. The oldest Quercus dated to 1795, and the largest recruitment pulse occurred in the 1870s. The mean return interval for intermediate-severity disturbance was 38 years. Although we documented no relationships between disturbance frequency and compositional diversity at the neighborhood scale (0.05 ha), less frequent disturbance was associated with higher structural complexity (r2 = 0.258, p = 0.026) at the neighborhood scale. We suggest that localized disturbance increases species diversity and structural complexity, but these processes are manifest at the stand level and not at the neighborhood scale. We conclude that the spatial variability (i.e. size, shape, orientation, microsite conditions) is likely more influential on diversity and complexity than the temporal variation (frequency) of these processes at the neighborhood scale.


Canopy gap Quercus (oak) Stand development Succession 



Diameter at breast height




Shannon–Weiner diversity index


Species evenness


Species mingling index


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration



We thank Jonathan Kleinman and Scott Ford for assistance in the field; the Bankhead National Forest staff for logistical support; and Jonathan Kressuk and Raien Emery for assistance in the lab.

Author’s contributions

JDG, CRB, and JLH conceived and designed the study. JDG and CRB led field data collection and data analysis. JDG, CRB, JLH, and DCD wrote the paper.


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Copyright information

© Northeast Forestry University and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan D. Goode
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carson R. Barefoot
    • 1
  • Justin L. Hart
    • 1
  • Daniel C. Dey
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Northern Research StationUSDA Forest ServiceColumbiaUSA

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