Species resistance and community response to wind disturbance regimes in northern temperate forests


and present address: M. J. Papaik, University of Quebec at Montreal, CP 8888 Succ. Centre-Ville, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3P8, Canada (tel. +1 514 987 3000 × 2357, fax +514 987 4647, e-mail papaikm@ecostudies.org).


  • 1Severe winds are the predominant cause of natural disturbance in temperate forests of north-eastern and north-central North America. Conceptual models of the effects of wind disturbance have traditionally focused on the impacts of catastrophic disturbances and have painted a simple picture of how disturbance acts to maintain tree species diversity. These models ignore variation among species characteristics that could have important consequences for both resistance to and recovery from disturbance.
  • 2We integrated an empirically parameterized, mechanistic model of windstorm mortality (WINDSTORM) and a seed-mass-based dispersal and recruitment model into a spatially explicit, individual tree model of forest dynamics (SORTIE) in order to create simulated long-term ‘experiments’ designed to explore the sensitivity of forest composition and structure to species-specific resistance to and recovery from disturbance.
  • 3We found that species-specific variation in resistance to wind mortality interacted strongly with: (i) shade tolerance characteristics, (ii) the medium-term history of disturbances, (iii) the long-term average severity of the disturbance regime and (iv) seedbed substrate dynamics to influence tree population dynamics and successional trajectories.
  • 4We also examined how local and long-distance dispersal affect response to wind disturbance. Ignoring differences among local dispersal characteristics overestimates the importance of dispersal-limited species. Our results show that long-distance immigration maintains species coexistence only if the immigration rate is very high relative to local dispersal. Despite this, stand-scale models that ignore long-distance dispersal can underestimate population dynamics of dispersal-limited species.
  • 5Our results indicate that landscape-scale heterogeneity in structure and species composition in these forests is facilitated by synergisms between the stochastic nature of wind disturbance and complex interactions between species traits that govern: (i) resistance to disturbance, (ii) local dispersal and seedling establishment and (iii) competitive (i.e. growth/survival) traits that do not adhere to strict tradeoffs.
  • 6We conclude that wind disturbance has much more complex and variable effects on long-term dynamics of forest structure and composition than suggested by previous models. In particular, non-catastrophic disturbances can generate important variation in forest dynamics that can either lead to dominance by a single or small number of species, or facilitate species coexistence.