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Forest dynamics of pine- and oak-dominated communities on southeastern-facing slopes of Warm Springs Mountain, Virginia
Sams, Brent Shipley
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Warm Springs Mountain (WSM), a priority conservation area for The Nature Conservancy in Bath County, Virginia, is home to a rare montane pine barren and large tracts of uninterrupted mixed pine and deciduous forest extending east into the George Washington National Forest. Limited documentation of past disturbances and their influence on WSM forests presents challenges for land managers desiring to understand historic conditions for these ecosystems. The only formal study of vegetation dynamics on WSM noted an absence of pitch pine (Pinus rigida Mill.) regeneration and an increase in fire-intolerant species during recent decades in the pine barren community that is probably linked to fire suppression. Dendrochronological studies of disturbance history in the central and southern Appalachians have mostly focused on ridgetop and southwestern-facing slopes. This study examines long-term forest dynamics in the pine- and oak-dominated forests on southeastern slopes of Warm Springs Mountain and downslope from the higher elevation pine barren using dendrochronology and vegetation analysis. We studied trees in six 20 x 50 m plots to develop a tree ring chronology and document changes in stand composition and structure through time. We found an increase in fire-intolerant species and decline in fire-dependent pines and oaks through time. Pitch pines have not recruited since 1954 in our sites due to a lack of burning, while Acer rubrum L. has produced high numbers of seedlings in recent years. This study of vegetation dynamics over space and time will provide insights for land managers and inform fire restoration practices.
- Masters Theses