Evaluation of 10-year temporal and spatial variability in structure and growth across contrasting commercial thinning treatments in spruce-fir forests of northern Maine, USA

  • Christian Kuehne
  • Aaron Weiskittel
  • Arne Pommerening
  • Robert G. Wagner


Key message

Detailed measures of growth pattern and structural heterogeneity applied in this study helped to quantify the immediate effects of various thinning regimes on forest structure and the resulting alterations in tree size as well as observed longer term stand dynamics.


Forest management, stand structure, and tree growth are highly inter-correlated. Prior analyses, however, have resulted in mixed outcomes with limited success in revealing ecological mechanisms.


The study aimed at evaluating the relationship between forest structure and stand dynamics by applying several sophisticated measures of growth pattern and structural heterogeneity.


Data from a controlled and fully stem-mapped commercial thinning experiment with seven contrasting treatments including a non-thinned control at six locations across the Acadian Forest of Maine, USA, was used. Stand-level attributes examined included tree size and growth heterogeneity, spatial tree distribution, and growth dominance.


Thinning generally reduced stand structural heterogeneity compared to the non-thinned control. In addition, the spatial arrangement of trees changed from fully random (non-thinned control) to a more clustered (removal of dominant and co-dominant individuals) or regular distribution (removal of intermediate and suppressed individuals). Overall, stand growth exhibited increasing (non-thinned control, removal of intermediate and suppressed individuals) or decreasing growth dominance of large trees (removal of co-dominant competitors). Forwarder trails increased basal area growth of individual trees up to a distance from the trail of approximately 5 m.


Findings of this study validate an earlier insight according to which interactions between management practices, forest structure, and tree growth form a permanent feedback loop.


Stand structure Spatial tree pattern Growth dominance Balsam fir Red spruce 



The authors thank members of the Cooperative Forest Research Unit (CFRU) for providing the resources necessary to establish and maintain the Commercial Thinning Research Network. We are also grateful to current and past CFRU Associate Director Drs. Brian Roth and Spencer Meyer, as well as all technicians who have maintained the study and collected data over the years. We thank Barry Gardiner and two anonymous referees for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Funding information

This work was funded by the National Science Foundation’s I/UCRC Center for Advanced Forestry Systems, Northeastern States Research Cooperative (NSRC), and the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG, grant no. KU 1979/2-1).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Kuehne
    • 1
  • Aaron Weiskittel
    • 1
  • Arne Pommerening
    • 2
  • Robert G. Wagner
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest Resource Management, Faculty of Forest SciencesSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLUUmeåSweden
  3. 3.Department of Forestry and Natural ResourcesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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