Moderate severity disturbances, which only kill a subset of canopy trees (e.g., via insects, pathogens, and windthrow), are increasingly widespread in North America, and can alter forest structure and production. Whether the net primary production (NPP) of forest stands differing in pre-disturbance site quality and composition respond similarly to moderate severity disturbance, however, is unknown, but critical to understanding the disturbance response dynamics of patchy landscapes. We experimentally disturbed three, 2-ha stands varying in pre-disturbance primary production and community composition, temporarily reducing live stand basal area by 38% to 66% through the stem girdling of all mature early successional aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx. and Populus grandidentata Michx.
) and birch (Betula papyrifera Marshall
). Disturbance significantly altered stand-scale physical and biological structure and prompted a similar decade-long pattern of wood NPP decline and recovery. All stands exhibited an initial reduction in wood NPP, followed by a recovery period and eventual return to pre-disturbance levels within eight years, with the most productive stand exhibiting an increase in primary production following recovery. Following wood NPP recovery, more biologically diverse forest canopies with higher leaf area indexes intercepted more light, and, consequently, had higher rates of wood NPP. We conclude that, despite substantial pre-disturbance differences in productivity and community composition, relative wood NPP recovery patterns can be similar, though long-term post-recovery primary production may trend higher in more productive and compositionally diverse stands. We suggest that improved mechanistic understanding of different forest ecosystems’ responses to disturbances remains critical to informing management decisions across diverse landscape mosaics.
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