We characterized the post-disturbance recruitment window for red maple (Acer rubrum) in a southern Appalachian wetland using size-class distributions and forest stand models. The DBH and core age of understory and overstory trees were measured in 108 plots in forested (closed) and unforested (open) fen and floodplain sites at the Tulula Creek wetland complex (a southern Appalachian wetland in Graham County, North Carolina) in 1994 and 2001 as part of a larger ecological study. In addition, the heights of red maple seedlings were measured in 379 quadrats in an unforested floodplain in 1996 and 2001. We examined the temporal patterning of wetland recruitment using red maple size-class data in order to determine (1) the recruitment window for seedling colonization and (2) temporal recruitment patterning based on the size/age structure of established tree stands. Diameter and height distributions were compared with power function, negative exponential and quadratic models in order to determine goodness of fit using the coefficient of determination (R2). Diameter distributions and stand models showed that recruitment continued (at a diminishing rate) at sites that were last cleared 7, 14, and approximately 30 years earlier and ceased at a fourth site cleared approximately 45 years earlier. While there were minor recruitment fluctuations that possibly coincided with water-level changes, the unimodal size class distributions indicated that recruitment did not pulse subsequent to initial canopy disturbance. These results show that red maple readily colonized wetland habitats and that the recruitment window lasts at least twice as long as that reported in terrestrial systems. In addition, size-class distribution and regression analysis indicate that the colonization window is directly impacted by canopy disturbance and only indirectly influenced by water levels.
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Vol. 24 • No. 2