Impacts of oak-focused silvicultural treatments on the regeneration layer nine years posttreatment in a productiv
Oaks (Quercus spp.) are foundational species in forests and woodlands in the eastern USA. An oak regeneration bottleneck has occurred throughout its range in recent decades, and refining silvicultural treatments to localized conditions has become a focus in addressing this problem. This study was developed to determine species regeneration dynamics among oak and oak competitors on productive sites in response to silvicultural treatments in oak-dominated southern Appalachian mountain forests. The treatments were: an oak shelterwood treatment (25–30% basal area [BA]) reduction through midstory removal with herbicides); a prescribed fire treatment (two, late-dormant season prescribed fires occurring over a 9-yr period); a shelterwood and burn treatment (one, late-dormant season prescribed fire 3–5 yr following 30–40% BA removal); and an unmanaged control. To determine treatment impacts on the regeneration layer, changes in relative and absolute importance values and stems ha-1 (germinants up to stems ≤4.9 cm diameter at breast height [DBH]) were calculated at the species group and individual species level 0 and 9 yr postinitial treatment. The greatest relative increases in importance values were 1,401% and 2,995% for the red oak group and yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), respectively, in the shelterwood and burn (SWB). Changes in all species groups were predominantly influenced by the smallest size-class (<0.6 m tall), with the exception of northern red oak (Q. rubra) and yellow-poplar in the SWB. The SWB significantly reduced importance values of all shade-tolerant species groups and was the only treatment to decrease red maple (Acer rubrum) importance value and density over the study duration. The prescribed fire (RXF) treatment increased the red oak group importance value, while simultaneously decreasing yellow-poplar’s importance value and increasing red maple’s importance value. Changes in the red oak group in the SWB and the RXF were driven by northern red oak. Treatments did not significantly change the importance value of the white oak group. The SWB was the only treatment to significantly decrease overstory BA. The RXF and SWB treatments improved the competitive status of only some oak species, but modifications to these treatments might result in better control of yellow-poplar and red maple competition, further improving oak’s competitive status. Although the SWB resulted in modest recruitment of northern red oak saplings, all treatments appear in need of additional follow-up vegetation control to further improve the competitiveness and recruitment of oak into large size-classes.