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Shade, light, and stream temperature responses to riparian thinning in second-growth redwood forests of northern California

February 16, 2021

Resource managers in the Pacific Northwest (USA) actively thin second-growth forests to accelerate the development of late-successional conditions and seek to expand these restoration thinning treatments into riparian zones. Riparian forest thinning, however, may impact stream temperatures–a key water quality parameter often regulated to protect stream habitat and aquatic organisms. To better understand the effects of riparian thinning on shade, light, and stream temperature, we employed a manipulative field experiment following a replicated Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) design in three watersheds in the redwood forests of northern California, USA. Thinning treatments were intended to reduce canopy closure or basal area within the riparian zone by up to 50% on both sides of the stream channel along a 100–200 m stream reach. We found that responses to thinning ranged widely depending on the intensity of thinning treatments. In the watersheds with more intensive treatments, thinning reduced shade, increased light, and altered stream thermal regimes in thinned and downstream reaches. Thinning shifted thermal regimes by increasing maximum temperatures, thermal variability, and the frequency and duration of elevated temperatures. These thermal responses occurred primarily during summer but also extended into spring and fall. Longitudinal profiles indicated that increases in temperature associated with thinning frequently persisted downstream, but downstream effects depended on the magnitude of upstream temperature increases. Model selection analyses indicated that local changes in shade as well as upstream thermal conditions and proximity to upstream treatments explained variation in stream temperature responses to thinning. In contrast, in the study watershed with less intensive thinning, smaller changes in shade and light resulted in minimal stream temperature responses. Collectively, our data shed new light on the stream thermal responses to riparian thinning. These results provide relevant information for managers considering thinning as a viable restoration strategy for second-growth riparian forests.

Publication Year 2021
Title Shade, light, and stream temperature responses to riparian thinning in second-growth redwood forests of northern California
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0246822
Authors David Roon, Jason B. Dunham, Jeremiah D Groom
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70219485
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center