AbstractForest structural diversity and community composition are key in regulating forest microclimates. When disturbance affects structural diversity or composition, forest microclimates may be altered due to changes in soil temperature, soil water content, and light availability. It is unclear however which structural or compositional components, when changed or to what extent, result in microclimatic change. To address this question, we used data from a large scale, manipulative stem-girdling experiment in northern, lower Michigan—the Forest Resilience and Threshold Experiment (FoRTE). FoRTE follows a factorial design with multiple levels of disturbance severity (0, 45, 65, 85%) based on targeted reductions in gross leaf area index via stem-girdling induced mortality. These disturbance severity treatments are applied in two ways: either as top-down (largest trees are killed) or bottom-up (small to medium trees killed) treatments. We examined how multiple components of structural diversity and community composition changed as a product of disturbance severity and type, and then tested for resulting effects on forest microclimates (light availability, soil temperature, and soil water), using a multivariate, Random Forest framework. We found that measures of community composition (species richness, species evenness, and Shannon-Wiener Diversity Index) and stand structure (basal area, standard deviation of DBH, tree size diversity) declined more following disturbance than did measures of canopy cover, heterogeneity, arrangement, or height. However, when changes in each variable from pre- to post-disturbance, measured as log change, were employed in a multivariate, Random Forest regression framework, structural diversity measures of heterogeneity (rugosity, top rugosity), cover (canopy cover), and arrangement (porosity) were the most influential variables, but with differences among bottom-up and top-down treatments We found that the death of large trees from disturbance impacts soil temperature, water, and light environments more substantially and uniformly across disturbance gradients than does the death of smaller trees. Our results have implications for both statistical and process-based modeling of forest disturbance.
Published: September 15, 2023