Timbering and Storms

Sunburned four-prong ginseng plant
in the year following a timber harvest
Photo by Jennifer L. Chandler

Previous research suggests that American ginseng is best adapted to the low light environments typical of mature and old growth forests.1 Natural canopy disturbances are important sources of resource availability within these forest systems. However, human influences are affecting forests by altering, and oftentimes worsening, disturbance events across the landscape.2 Forest disturbance leads to a shift in forest dynamics. As this shift occurs, environmental characteristics such as temperature, humidity, and surface soil moisture change quickly. While ginseng is adapted to the natural disturbance patterns of old growth forests,1 it is not known whether ginseng can maintain performance under the higher amounts of canopy disturbance commonly associated with human activity.

Doctoral candidate, Jennifer L. Chandler is curently investigating the relationship between ginseng and canopy disturbances. The purpose of this research is to determine how American ginseng and other understory species respond to canopy disturbances that are caused by human actions. Four research goals concerning the effects of canopy disturbance on the herbaceous layer are being addressed. The first question examines the physiological, growth, and population-level responses of American ginseng to canopy gaps created during 2012 Superstorm Sandy.

Ginseng research site in the spring
following a timber harvest
Photo by Jennifer L. Chandler

The second question explores the effects of climate-altered canopy disturbances on the growth and population-level response of understory plants, using American ginseng as a model. Of particular interest are the effects of frost damage, insect defoliation, and ice storms, as these are three natural canopy disturbances whose effects may be altered and intensified by climate change. Additionally, the effects of timber harvest on forest understory plant communities as a whole, and also on the ecology of American ginseng, will be examined.

Evidence suggests that the size and abundance of natural populations of ginseng may be decreasing.2 Research that focuses on the response of ginseng to varying intensities of canopy removal will provide a much-needed understanding of how timber harvest and other human-influenced disturbance events may be affecting multiple scales of ginseng performance. An understanding of how human actions alter and potentially degrade understory habitat will be vital to the conservation of the herbaceous understory and to natural populations of American ginseng. Ultimately, this research will aid in developing and shaping more ecologically sustainable forest management practices.


1Wagner and McGraw 2013
2McGraw et al. 2013