Successful tree regeneration is essential for sustainable forest management, yet it can be limited by the interaction of harvesting effects and multiple ecological drivers. In northern hardwood forests, for example, there is uncertainty whether low-intensity selection harvesting techniques will result in adequate and desirable regeneration. Our research is part of a long-term study that tests the hypothesis that a silvicultural approach called “structural complexity enhancement” (SCE) can accelerate the development of late-successional forest structure and functions. Our objective is to understand the regeneration dynamics following three uneven-aged forestry treatments with high levels of retention: single-tree selection, group selection, and SCE. Regeneration density and diversity can be limited by differing treatment effects on or interactions among light availability, competitive environment, substrate, and herbivory. To explore these relationships, manipulations and controls were replicated across 2 ha treatment units at two Vermont sites. Forest inventory data were collected pre-harvest and periodically over 13 years post-harvest. We used mixed effects models with repeated measures to evaluate the effect of treatment on seedling and sapling density and diversity (Shannon–Weiner H’). The treatments were all successful in recruiting a sapling class with significantly greater sapling densities compared to the controls. However, undesirable and prolific beech (Fagus americana
) sprouting dominates some patches in the understory of all the treatments, creating a high degree of spatial variability in the competitive environment for regeneration. Multivariate analyses suggest that while treatment had a dominant effect, other factors were influential in driving regeneration responses. These results indicate variants of uneven-aged systems that retain or enhance elements of stand structural complexity—including old-growth characteristics—can generally foster abundant regeneration of important late successional tree species depending on site conditions, but they may require beech control where beech sprouting inhibits desired regeneration.
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