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Population Ecology of Chestnut Oak

Along the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, the upland forest becomes dominated by the majestic Chestnut oak (Quercus montana).  This foundation species of the Cumberland Plateau may be one of the few species of oaks to benefit from the drier conditions predicted with climate change.  Since 1997, we have conducted an annual census of a stand of chestnut oaks within a one hectare plot on the Domain.  We have examined patterns of seed rain, seedling establishment, basal sprouting, and sapling to adult survivorship spatially within the plot.   These data have allowed us to parameterize a demographic model that projects future population trends.

We find that midstory individuals are “shrinking”
through stem replacement or dying over time, and it is very rare for an individual to increase in size class.
Sprouting (both existence of sprouts and number of sprouts) was associated with the death of a genetic individual.

Our matrix model indicated a slow decline of the population over the next 50 years, a pattern reflected in
the regional patterns of chestnut oaks. We suggest that the chestnut oaks studied may represent a “remnant
population” which slowly declines until either local extinction or the existence of favorable environmental


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