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Forest Decline and Tree Mortality in a Southeastern Ohio Oak-Hickory Forest

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Many forests throughout the central Appalachians have been suspected, or observed, to be in declining health. Few studies have examined the vitality of southeastern Ohio's forests. The purpose of our study was to evaluate the health of a representative southeastern Ohio oak-hickory forest. Thirty-two 0.1 ha plots were sampled in August 1995 on the 550 ha Waterloo Wildlife Experiment Station (ODNR) in Athens County, OH. Data were collected for all living and dead stems with a DBH >10 cm (1,891 stems sampled). For living trees, a decline index (DI) was determined to evaluate the percentage of branch dieback, undersized leaves, and chlorosis. Dead trees were identified and categorized by mortality class (log vs. snag). Quercus spp. and Carya spp. accounted for 68% of all stems sampled (83% living). Among the live trees, only three species (Juglans nigra, Sassafras albidum, and Cornus florida) exhibited nonhealthy DI values. All other species were observed to be healthy or exhibiting only trace symptoms of decline. In contrast to decline, high mortality was observed for S. albidum (29.1%), Liriodendron tulipifera (21.7%), and Prunus serotina (21.6%). Quercus spp. (17.0%), and Carya spp. (16.2%) exhibited moderate mortality. Acer spp. had the highest vitality among the dominant species. Most of the observed patterns can be explained by successional dynamics and known pathogenic processes. Various incongruities emphasize the need for long-term studies of forest dynamics and forest health monitoring.

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