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What Are Intermediate-Severity Forest Disturbances and Why Are They Important?

Department of Geography, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2018, 9(9), 579;
Received: 16 July 2018 / Revised: 11 September 2018 / Accepted: 17 September 2018 / Published: 19 September 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Disturbance, Succession, and Development of Forests)
PDF [1959 KB, uploaded 19 September 2018]


The classification of discrete forest disturbance events is usually based on the spatial extent, magnitude, and frequency of the disturbance. Based on these characteristics, disturbances are placed into one of three broad categories, gap-scale, intermediate-severity, or catastrophic disturbance, along the disturbance classification gradient. We contend that our understanding of disturbance processes near the endpoints of the disturbance classification gradient far exceeds that of intermediate-severity events. We hypothesize that intermediate-severity disturbances are more common, and that they are more important drivers of forest ecosystem change than is commonly recognized. Here, we provide a review of intermediate-severity disturbances that includes proposed criteria for categorizing disturbances on the classification gradient. We propose that the canopy opening diameter to height ratio (D:H) be used to delineate gap-scale from intermediate-severity events and that the threshold between intermediate and catastrophic events be based on the influence of residual trees on the composition of the regeneration layer. We also provide examples of intermediate-severity disturbance agents, return intervals for these events, and recommendations for incorporating natural intermediate-severity disturbance patterns in silvicultural systems. View Full-Text
Keywords: disturbance; moderate severity; stand development; structure; succession disturbance; moderate severity; stand development; structure; succession

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Hart, J.L.; Kleinman, J.S. What Are Intermediate-Severity Forest Disturbances and Why Are They Important? Forests 2018, 9, 579.

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