Resilience of a Fire-Maintained Pinus palustris Woodland to Catastrophic Wind Disturbance: 10 Year Results
Increased interest in ecosystem recovery and resilience has been driven by concerns over global change-induced shifts in forest disturbance regimes. In frequent-fire forests, catastrophic wind disturbances modify vegetation-fuels-fire feedbacks, and these alterations may shift species composition and stand structure to alternative states relative to pre-disturbance conditions. We established permanent inventory plots in a catastrophically wind-disturbed and fire-maintained Pinus palustris woodland in the Alabama Fall Line Hills to examine ecosystem recovery and model the successional and developmental trajectory of the stand through age 50 years. We found that sapling height was best explained by species. Species with the greatest mean heights likely utilized different regeneration mechanisms. The simulation model projected that at age 50 years, the stand would transition to be mixedwood and dominated by Quercus species, Pinus taeda, and P. palustris. The projected successional pathway is likely a function of residual stems that survived the catastrophic wind disturbance and modification of vegetation-fuels-fire feedbacks. Although silvicultural interventions will be required for this system to exhibit pre-disturbance species composition and structure, we contend that the ecosystem was still resilient to the catastrophic disturbance because similar silvicultural treatments were required to create and maintain the P. palustris woodland prior to the disturbance event.