Characteristics of American beech (Fagus grandifolia Mill.) and its forest associates in three geographically distinct populations in forests of the Eastern United States
American beech (Fagus grandifoliaMill.) plays a complex role in forests throughout the Eastern United States. Nowhere is this more evident that in the Commonwealth of Virginia where this species shows up in a variety of forest types and successional stages across a wide geographic range. Past studies have shown it to be most important on the coastal plain and mountain regions of Virginia. Where it is dominant, it occurs over a wide range of site conditions and usually develops widely where anthropogenic disturbance has been stopped. We used USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data to describe the extent of forests where beech occurs across the major physiographic regions of Virginia, identify associates in the tree stratum, and describe the relative level of beech dominance in these stands.
As of 2012, forests covered 6,427,724 ha of land in Virginia (63%). Of this, American beech was present on an estimated 1,047,945 ha (552 sample units). At the population-level, number of live stems ≥ 2.54 cm dbh was approximately 250,083,108, or 39 trees/ha across the state, and 239 trees/ha for areas where it occurred. Beech was number 1, 2, or 3 in basal area on just over one-third of the sample units where it occurred. The number of live beech trees per hectare was nearly equal across the three regions studied (coastal plain, piedmont, and southern mountains). In general, co-dominants on the 135 sample units where beech was number 1 or 2 in basal area were different by region, with one exception. In nearly one-third of the plots in all three regions studied, yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) was co-dominant with beech. This finding is somewhat contradictory to other research in Virginia that found a lack of yellow-poplar in beech-dominated stands. The next most dominant species in beech dominated stands were loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) in the coastal plain, white oak (Quercus alba L.) in the piedmont, and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis[L.] Carr.) in the southern mountains. These types of studies are important in elucidating the role that select species play at the landscape scale.