Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Forest Science (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


David James Flaspohler


Christopher Raymond Webster


Green-tree retention under the conceptual framework of ecological forestry has the potential to provide both biomass feedstock for industry and maintain quality wildlife habitat. I examined the effects of retained canopy trees as biological legacies (“legacy trees”) in aspen (Populus spp.) forests on above-ground live woody biomass, understory plant floristic quality, and bird diversity. Additionally, I evaluated habitat quality for a high conservation priority species, the Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera). I selected 27 aspen-dominated forest stands in northern Wisconsin with nine stands in each of three legacy tree retention treatments (conifer retention, hardwood retention, and clearcuts or no retention) across a chronosequence (4-36 years post-harvest).

Conifer retention stands had greater legacy tree and all tree species biomass but lower regenerating tree biomass than clearcuts. Coniferous but not hardwood legacy trees appeared to suppress regenerating tree biomass. I evaluated the floristic quality of the understory plant assemblage by estimating the mean coefficient of conservatism (C). Mean C was lower in young stands than in middle-age or old stands; there was a marginally significant (p=0.058) interaction effect between legacy tree retention treatment and stand age. Late-seral plant species were positively associated with stand age and legacy tree diameter or age revealing an important relationship between legacy tree retention and stand development.

Bird species richness was greatest in stands with hardwood retention particularly early in stand development. Six conservation priority bird species were indicators of legacy tree retention or clearcuts. Retention of legacy trees in aspen stands provided higher quality nest habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler than clearcuts based on high pairing success and nesting activity.

Retention of hardwoods, particularly northern red oak (Quercus rubra), yielded the most consistent positive effects in this study with the highest bird species richness and the highest quality habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler. This treatment maintained stand biomass comparable to clearcuts and did not suppress regenerating tree biomass. In conclusion, legacy tree retention can enhance even-aged management techniques to produce a win-win scenario for the conservation of declining bird species and late-seral understory plants and for production of woody biomass feedstock from naturally regenerating aspen forests.