Date of Award

2001

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

Michael S. Greenwood

Second Committee Member

Christopher S. Campbell

Third Committee Member

Keith W. Hutchison

Abstract

For over 3 centuries, diameter-limit harvesting has been a predominant logging method in the northeastern United States. Silvicultural theory asserts that such intensively selective harvesting can lead to genetic degradation. A decrease in softwood productivity has recently been reported in Maine - has a long history of dysgenic selection degraded the genetic resources of Maine softwoods, contributing to a decrease in growth and productivity? This study examines two aspects of potential implications of diameter-limit harvesting: effects on residual phenotypes of red spruce and impacts on genetic diversity of white pine. Radial growth of residual red spruce trees in stands experiencing 50 years of fixed diameter-limit harvesting was measured using annual increment rings and compared with residual red spruce trees in positive selection stands. Trees remaiaing after several rounds of diameter-limit harvesting exhibited sigdicantl y smaller radial sizes throughout their lives, and displayed significantly slower growth rates for the first 80 years of measured growth. These results strongly suggest that the largest and fastest-growing genotypes and their respective gene complexes determining good radial growth have been removed from the diameter-limit stand. Dysgenic selection can be observed in fixed diarneter-limit stands, resulting in a diminished genetic resource and decreased residual stand value. To examine more direct genetic implications of long-term diameter-limit harvesting, microsatellite DNA markers were implemented to study genetic diversity of eastern white pine in Maine. Three age groups of trees were studied: mature trees older than 200 years, juvenile trees 5-30 years old, and embryos. Trees were genotyped at 10 microsatellite loci. Overall genetic diversity levels of eastern white pine in Maine were extremely high, with an average observed heterozygosity of 0.762. Genetic differentiation was minimal among and between all three age groups, although an excess of heterozygotes was shown in the mature and juvenile groups that was not reflected in the embryo group, which actually had a slight heterozygote deficiency. Allele frequencies did not differ significantly between age groups, but did reveal more rare and low frequency alleles in the embryo groups than in the mature group. Overall, low frequency alleles comprise the largest portion of alleles in the sample population, with no common alleles evident overall. These results suggest that significant genetic degradation has either not occurred for white pine, or that the results of dysgenic selection have not yet emerged. It is clear, however, that selective harvesting could result in a loss of low frequency alleles, which are a primary reserve of evolutionary potential in a species. Implications of these studies affect industrial forestry, regional economics, and ecological concerns for the northeast. Long-term diameter-limit harvesting can lead to a degradation of residual phenotypes, and an overall decrease in stand quality. Potentially, a loss of low frequency, locally adapted alleles could result in a decrease of allelic richness and degradation of the regidnal genetic resource. Decreased genetic variation can lead to seriously limited evolutionary potential of species and ecosystems, particularly in rapidly changing environments. Based on these findings, I recommend a reassessment of any harvesting prescription that includes fixed diameter-limit removals, particularly for species that have low natural genetic diversity levels or a limited natural range, such as red spruce. Maintenance of a healthy genetic reserve can avoid effects of dysgenic harvesting.

Share