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Biology
Completed Project

American Chestnut as a Management Strategy for Vine-Dominated Light Gaps in Temperate Forests

Jessie Prutisto-Chang ’18, Addison Tate ’17, and Meg Ronsheim (Biology)

Invasive vines such as oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and porcelainberry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) tend to dominate forest light gaps, shifting the forest’s successional trajectory or delaying succession for decades.  Vines are becoming more prolific in temperate forests due to forest fragmentation, higher atmospheric CO2 levels, and milder winters caused by climate change.  Forest canopy gaps are increasing in abundance with the arrival of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), an invasive beetle that kills ash (Fraxinus sp.).  This study examines the potential for mitigating vine gap expansion through shade management by planting American Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata).  On the Vassar College Ecological Preserve we cleared six 10x10m vine-dominated gaps and planted American Chestnut in three plots, paired with three unplanted control plots.  In anticipation of the emerald ash borer, we identified six ‘pre-gap’ plots that contained white ash (Fraxinus americana), and planted American Chestnut in three of these plots, paired with three unplanted control plots.  We will compare the successional trajectories of the planted and unplanted plots to assess the effectiveness of this management strategy. This study has potential for use in forest management across the Northeast.