Catastrophic windthrow in the Southern Appalachians: characteristics of pits and mounds and initial vegetation responses

  • Authors: Clinton, Barton D.; Baker, Corey R.
  • Publication Year: 2000
  • Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
  • Source: Forest Ecology and Management. 126: 51-60.


We characterized pit and mound (PM) topography resulting from catastrophic wind in the Coweeta Basin, and located 48 PM’s across a variety of forest types. Our measurements included pit length, width, and depth; and mound height, thickness, and width. Species of fallen trees were identified, and d.b.h. (diameter at breast height, 1.37 m) was measured for biomass determination. We identified five distinct microsites at each PM: mound face, mound top, pit bottom, pit wall, and intact forest floor. On each microsite, we measured photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), soil temperature, and soil moisture, and took soil samples from four microsites (intact forest floor, pit wall, pit bottom, mound top) to determine carbon and nitrogen concentrations.

Treefall direction was marginally non-random. Three PM dimensions were significantly related to fallen tree biomass: mound width; mound height; and pit width. Other relationships failed because (1) rooting depth of the fallen tree was not necessarily proportional to tree size; and (2) trees that fell striking other trees often slid back into the pit, altering its dimensions. PAR was highest at mound top (250 m mol m - 2 s- 1 ) and lowest in pit bottom (70 m mol m - 2 s- 1 ). Mean soil temperature varied » 3ºC across microsites, and soil moisture ranged from 24 percent on the mound top and mound face to 34 percent in the pit bottom. Nitrogen and carbon concentrations were significantly higher on the forest floor ([N] = 0.23 percent; [C] = 4.73 percent) than on the other three microsites ([N] = 0.08-0.10 percent; [C] = 1.4-2.2 percent). Over time, soil nutrition and microsite instability, due to erosion and settling, may be the most influential factors determining rates of vegetative establishment in PM’s.

We characterized initial vegetative recovery in 27 blowdown sites. Trees were placed in one of two damage classes: direct wind damage (direct); and damage due to the fall of another tree (indirect). Basal and/or bole sprouting, and live or dead crowns were noted. Blowdown areas ranged from 181 to 4043 m2 and averaged 1175 m2 . Mean diameter of indirectly damaged trees was 50 percent of the mean for trees directly damaged, but both had similar minimum diameters. Overall, the biomass of indirectly damaged trees accounted for <10 percent of total biomass but 33 percent of the total number of stems. Of the indirectly damaged trees, 38 percent were topped, 82 percent exhibited basal or bole sprouting, and 21 percent had live crowns. By contrast, of the directly damaged trees, only 5 percent were topped, <50 percent were sprouting, and only 11 percent had live crowns.

  • Citation: Clinton, Barton D.; Baker, Corey R. 2000. Catastrophic windthrow in the Southern Appalachians: characteristics of pits and mounds and initial vegetation responses. Forest Ecology and Management. 126: 51-60.
  • Posted Date: April 1, 1980
  • Modified Date: August 22, 2006
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