Wetland ecology of Northeastern lowland forests
August 2022 - August 2024
- Northeastern States Research Cooperative
The Northern Forest is a working forest that provides benefits, including timber production, from a range of natural community types broadly classified as lowlands and uplands. Northern Forest lowlands, including forested swamps and seeps, contain regionally important commercial tree species such as northern white-cedar, balsam fir and red spruce. Though widely harvested, impacts of forestry operations on these ecosystems are poorly understood. Yet demand for products such as softwood pulp, studwood, and shingles from tree species common in seasonally wetted lowlands remains strong. The lack of baseline information and standardized methods for assessing these Northern Forest wetland habitats limits the ability of local and regional planners to guide forest management and evaluate outcomes. This gap in ecological understanding is of concern, as intermittent waters, including seasonally wetted forested swamps and seeps, are increasingly recognized for their important roles in supporting water quality, biodiversity, and as critical habitat for wildlife of conservation concern. These waters are likely to encounter increased regulation as the jurisdictional definition of “Waters of the United States” is revised. Our goal for this project is to inform understanding of the intermittent wetland habitats and processes associated with management of northeastern lowland forests, focusing on northern white-cedar forests. This includes quantifying ecological impacts in these systems and developing standardized measurement protocols. Our specific objectives are to: 1) compare wetland processes across harvesting treatments in northern white cedar forests, with particular focus on decomposition, and insect biomass, assemblages, and biodiversity within the wetted environment; 2) develop standard quantification methods for aquatic leaf litter processing, wood decomposition and insect biodiversity in seasonally wetted lowlands that can be applied throughout the Northern Forest; and 3) communicate about tradeoffs in wetland ecosystem condition and biodiversity associated with harvest regimes to forestry practitioners to aid lowland forest management planning. By developing our understanding of these ecosystems and how they respond to harvest, this study will inform sustainable management and prepare stakeholders for questions regarding ecological tradeoffs in management of intermittent waters throughout Northern Forest lowlands.