Empirical relationships between tree fall and landscape-level amounts of logging and fire

Date: 26, Mar, 2019
Author(s):   David B. Lindenmayer, Wade Blanchard, David Blair, Lachlan McBurney, John Stein, Sam C. Banks
Publisher: PLoS

Large old trees are critically important keystone structures in forest ecosystems globally. Populations of these trees are also in rapid decline in many forest ecosystems, making it important to quantify the factors that influence their dynamics at different spatial scales. Large old trees often occur in forest landscapes also subject to fire and logging. However, the effects on the risk of collapse of large old trees of the amount of logging and fire in the surrounding landscape are not well understood. Using an 18-year study in the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria, we quantify relationships between the probability of collapse of large old hollow-bearing trees at a site and the amount of logging and the amount of fire in the surrounding landscape. We found the probability of collapse increased with an increasing amount of logged forest in the surrounding landscape. It also increased with a greater amount of burned area in the surrounding landscape, particularly for trees in highly advanced stages of decay. The most likely explanation for elevated tree fall with an increasing amount of logged or burned areas in the surrounding landscape is change in wind movement patterns associated with cutblocks or burned areas. Previous studies show that large old hollow-bearing trees are already at high risk of collapse in our study area. New analyses presented here indicate that additional logging operations in the surrounding landscape will further elevate that risk. Current logging prescriptions require the protection of large old hollow-bearing trees on cutblocks. We suggest that efforts to reduce the probability of collapse of large old hollow-bearing trees on unlogged sites will demand careful landscape planning to limit the amount of timber harvesting in the surrounding landscape.