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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  3. Across the globe, the forest carbon sink is increasingly vulnerable to an expanding array of low- to moderate-severity disturbances. However, some forest ecosystems exhibit functional resistance (i.e., the capacity of ecosystems to continue functioning as usual) following disturbances such as extreme weather events and insect or fungal pathogen outbreaks. Unlike severe disturbances (e.g., stand-replacing wildfires), moderate severity disturbances do not always result in near-term declines in forest production because of the potential for compensatory growth, including enhanced subcanopy production. Community-wide shifts in subcanopy plant functional traits, prompted by disturbance-driven environmental change, may play a key mechanistic role in resisting declines in net primary production (NPP) up to thresholds of canopy loss. However, the temporal dynamics of these shifts, as well as the upper limits of disturbance for which subcanopy production can compensate, remain poorly characterized. In this study, we leverage a 4-year dataset from an experimental forest disturbance in northern Michigan to assess subcanopy community trait shifts as well as their utility in predicting ecosystem NPP resistance across a wide range of implemented disturbance severities. Through mechanical girdling of stems, we achieved a gradient of severity from 0% (i.e., control) to 45, 65, and 85% targeted gross canopy defoliation, replicated across four landscape ecosystems broadly representative of the Upper Great Lakes ecoregion. We found that three of four examined subcanopy community weighted mean (CWM) traits including leaf photosynthetic rate ( p = 0.04), stomatal conductance ( p = 0.07), and the red edge normalized difference vegetation index ( p < 0.0001) shifted rapidly following disturbance but before widespread changes in subcanopy light environment triggered by canopy tree mortality. Surprisingly, stimulated subcanopy production fully compensated for upper canopy losses across our gradient of experimental severities, achieving complete resistance (i.e., no significant interannual differences from control) of whole ecosystem NPP even in the 85% disturbance treatment. Additionally, we identified a probable mechanistic switch from nutrient-driven to light-driven trait shifts as disturbance progressed. Our findings suggest that remotely sensed traits such as the red edge normalized difference vegetation index (reNDVI) could be particularly sensitive and robust predictors of production response to disturbance, even across compositionally diverse forests. The potential of leaf spectral indices to predict post-disturbance functional resistance is promising given the capabilities of airborne to satellite remote sensing. We conclude that dynamic functional trait shifts following disturbance can be used to predict production response across a wide range of disturbance severities. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 20, 2024
  4. The capacity of forests to resist structural change and retain material legacies–the biotic and abiotic resources that persist through disturbance–is crucial to sustaining ecosystem function after disturbance. However, the role of forest structure as both a material legacy and feature supporting carbon (C) cycling stability following disturbance has not been widely investigated. We used a large-scale disturbance manipulation to ask whether legacies of lidar-derived canopy structures drive 3-year primary production responses to disturbance. As part of the Forest Resilience Threshold Experiment (FoRTE) in northern Michigan, USA we simulated phloem-disrupting disturbances producing a range of severities and affecting canopy trees of different sizes. We quantified the legacies of forest structure using two approaches: one measuring the change in structure and primary production from pre-to post-disturbance and the second estimating resistance as log transformed ratios of control and treatment values. We found that total aboveground wood net primary production (ANPP w ) was similar across disturbance severities as legacy trees rapidly increased rates of primary production. Experiment-wide, the disturbance had limited effects on change in mean structural complexity values; however, high variance underscored large differences in the magnitude and direction of complexity's response at the plot-scale. Plot-scale structural complexity, but not vegetation area index (VAI), resistance strongly predicted ANPP w resistance while temporal VAI and structural complexity changes did not. We conclude that the presence of material legacies in the form of forest structure may affect primary production stability following disturbance and that how legacies are quantified may affect the interpretation of disturbance response. 
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  5. Canopy defoliation is an important source of disturbance in forest ecosystems that has rarely been represented in large-scale manipulation experiments. Scalable crown to canopy level experimental defoliation is needed to disentangle the effects of variable intensity, timing, and frequency on forest structure, function, and mortality. We present a novel pressure-washing-based defoliation method that can be implemented at the canopy-scale, throughout the canopy volume, targeted to individual leaves or trees, and completed within a timeframe of hours or days. Pressure washing proved successful at producing consistent leaf-level and whole-canopy defoliation, with 10%–20% reduction in leaf area index and consistent leaf surface area removal across branches and species. This method allows for stand-scale experimentation on defoliation disturbance in forested ecosystems and has the potential for broad application. Studies utilizing this standardized method could promote mechanistic understanding of defoliation effects on ecosystem structure and function and development of synthetic understanding across forest types, ecoregions, and defoliation sources. 
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