The University of Arizona

Community characteristics of old-growth western juniper woodlands.

W.S. Waichler, R.F. Miller, P.S. Doescher

Abstract


While considerable attention has been given to the areal expansion of juniper (Juniperus sp.) in the western United States, the presence and ecological significance of old-growth juniper communities has gone largely unnoted. Increased recognition of these communities has prompted questions about how to recognize old-growth, community structure, ecological importance, and appropriate management. As an initial analysis of old-growth western juniper woodlands (Juniperus occidentalis Hook var. occidentalis Vasek) in central Oregon, this study investigated old-growth community structure on eolian-sand derived soils. These woodlands represent the most extensive old-growth western juniper woodlands throughout its range. Nine study plots were established at 7 sites. Within each plot, densities and physical attributes of all live trees and large standing and fallen woody detritus were recorded. Additional measurements for live trees included canopy cover, apparent age class (pre- or postsettlement), and a sampling of tree ages. Aging of trees older than 250 years was complicated by extensive heartwood rot. Shrub density and cover were measured by species. Understory cover was measured by species and functional type. Bare ground, rock, juniper litter, other litter, moss, and cryptogamic crust cover were also measured. Plant cover ranged from 11 to 33% for trees, 0 to 10% for shrubs, 3 to 12% for perennial grasses, 1 to 2% for forbs, and from 0 to 0.1% for annual grasses. The woodlands contained at least 80 trees ha(-1) aged over 200 years. Correlations between tree parameters and understory structure and composition were generally poor. Differences in plant composition among these stands was primarily attributed to elevation, slope, and percent sand content. Structural characteristics that distinguished old-growth stands from younger stands included tree growth form, presence of standing and dead large woody debris, lichen on dead branches, and a relatively open canopy. Results provide a preliminary basis for identifying old-growth Juniperus occidentalis stands, as a prelude to the development of management plans and further research into the functional characteristics of the systems. A definition of old-growth juniper woodlands is presented.

DOI:10.2458/azu_jrm_v54i5_waichler


Keywords


eolian soils;terrain;tree age;seral stages;stand density;disturbed soils;stand structure;soil depth;ground cover;understory;climax communities;stand characteristics;sandy soils;species diversity;Juniperus occidentalis;slope;aspect;Oregon;plant communities;plant litter;botanical composition;canopy;soil texture;altitude

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