Krustchinsky, Adam R. (2009-05). Post-fire recovery and successional dynamics of an old growth red spruce forest in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Master's Thesis. Thesis uri icon


  • Red spruce is a shade-tolerant conifer whose distribution and abundance reflect Quaternary climate history as well as natural and anthropogenic disturbances. This species once extended further south than its present localities, because of natural and anthropogenic disturbances such as logging, windthrow, and fire. Little is known about the disturbance regime of this species, because long term stand dynamics are difficult to obtain. This-long lived species is hypothesized to be suffering a decline in radial growth, density and abundance at the present time. Recent research suggests pollution, biotic stresses, climate change and natural stand dynamics are the driving forces behind these decreases. The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of fire in a mesic ecosystem, specifically a high-elevation red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) forest on Whitetop Mountain in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Six plots were established in a high elevation red spruce stand to characterize the stand composition. Tree ring data were collected to investigate radial growth relations to inter-annual climatic variability and cross-sections were used to investigate fire history. Red spruce continued to establish throughout the 19th century until a severe fire occurred in 1919 and caused a new cohort of yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.) to establish within the stand. Logging and fire caused high mortality in the stand, yet many spruce remain that outdate the past disturbances. Red spruce saplings continue to persist in the stand, showing regeneration despite the abundant hardwoods. Moisture was the main contributing factor to red spruce growth in the dendroclimatic analysis. Red spruce radial growth was significantly correlated to high precipitation and low temperatures of the previous growing season, which is similar to recent research results. This study collaborates the current literature on red spruce growth along with the results found here in creating a model to represent the growth characteristics of red spruce when inter-mixed with hardwoods after a severe disturbance.

publication date

  • May 2009