Context: Implementing nature-based silviculture requires understanding the structural and compositional changes that occur in forested stands under known disturbance types and intensities. Aims: The objectives were to assess the (a) resistance of hardwood forests to change, (b) their trajectory of recovery following disturbance, and (c) how closely resulting forests resemble original forests. Methods: We characterized tree structure and composition at three points in time (pre-disturbance, 1-year post-disturbance, and ∼15 years following disturbance) along a harvesting disturbance gradient created by removing trees in different forest canopy strata. Results: Significant differences to pre-disturbance conditions were noted immediately post-harvest for tree basal area, density, species richness, and tree species composition; treatment differences were observed for all parameters except diversity. Plots exposed to the least extreme harvesting disturbances (cutting small and intermediate trees) had returned to pre-disturbance conditions for most parameters after 15 years, while the most extreme harvesting disturbance (cutting large trees) had not yet recovered. Conclusions: Although not initially resistant, Central Appalachian eastern hardwoods are fairly resilient to the removal of trees in the subcanopy or a mixture of the subcanopy and canopy; only the removal of solely canopy trees (i.e., high grading) and complete removal (i.e., clearcutting) appear to impose harvesting disturbances to which these forests may not be resilient.
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