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  • Dynamics of Old-Growth Forests on Wachusett Mountain in Princeton MA 1996-1997
  • Orwig, David
  • Cogbill, Charles
  • 2003
  • One of the largest old-growth forests in southern New England was recently "discovered" on the exposed upper slopes of Wachusett Mountain, one of the most heavily used recreational areas in Massachusetts, less than 50 miles from urban Boston. Presettlement and early post-settlement data suggest that most of the area’s forests were comprised of a mixture of Quercus rubra and northern hardwood species. Individual species abundances and recruitment dynamics in the four stands exhibit highly variable spatial and temporal patterns across sites that differ in aspect and exposure. Three uneven-aged hardwood stands contain Quercus rubra in the largest size classes, various amounts of Fagus grandifolia, Acer and Betula species in the middle size classes and dense thickets of Acer pennsylvanicum, Acer spicatum, and Hamamelis virginiana in the small size classes. Several individuals of Q. rubra, B. lenta, and B. alleghaniensis are at or very near the maximum longevity known for these species. Of particular significance is the presence of Q. rubra exceeding 250 - 300 years of age. A Tsuga canadensis stand contains unimodal size and age distributions, with trees less than 60-cm dbh and 100 to 300 years old. Widespread Quercus rubra recruitment occurred on all sites from the 1600s through the early 1800s, when it dropped precipitously except for scattered individuals on more open talus sites, and was replaced by either Tsuga or Acer and Betula species. The historical change in recruitment from Quercus to more shade-tolerant species evidently was driven by a change in disturbance regime from an early period when fire was a major factor controlling forest dynamics to a period over the last two centuries when hurricanes (1815 and 1938), frequent wind, ice, and snow damage, but no fire, are documented. The asynchronous nature of tree-ring releases and suppression and the relatively low amount of coarse woody debris corroborate this interpretation. Chronic canopy damage through time produced short-statured and unusually gnarled trees through ongoing reiteration of shoots and branches. These historical and structural characteristics gave the forest unusual resistance to occasional, severe winds from hurricanes despite its very exposed nature. In addition, the low quality of the timber and unusual structure of the trees and forest discouraged logging and prevented the recognition of the forest’s old-growth status despite its heavy recreational use.
  • N: 42.48      S: 42.48      E: -71.88      W: -71.88
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  • doi:10.6073/pasta/0d38802c4bae023e39bb2f31735171f3
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