Simplified forest structures following even-age management have been associated with the loss of biodiversity, which may be avoided through disturbance-inspired silviculture. Here, we ask how much do gap characteristics in a managed old-growth differ from those in unmanaged old-growth subject only to natural dynamics? In this study, we compared important characteristics of gaps (e.g. canopy gap fraction, distribution of gap sizes) and gapmakers (e.g. size classes, frequency, decay classes) between a managed and an adjacent unmanaged old-growth Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis Lipsky) compartment in the Keladarsht region of northern Iran 10 years after a single harvest entry using single-tree selection. Canopy openings >100 m2 with visible remnants of gapmakers (i.e. stumps) were included in this study. Gap characteristics of both compartments were within typical ranges for old-growth beech. Nonetheless, small but potentially important differences between the two areas were observed. In the managed compartment, harvesting poor quality trees with structural defects and typical diameters at breast height >52.5 cm plus natural mortality resulted in 102 canopy gaps (1-6 gapmakers, averaging 3.5 gaps/ha, gap fraction 9.8 per cent) compared with 59 natural canopy gaps (1-7 gapmakers, averaging 2.6 gaps/ha, gap fraction 13.7 per cent) in the unmanaged compartment. In both compartments, medium-sized gaps (200-500 m2) were most prevalent. In the managed compartment, 60 per cent of gapmakers were large or very large (typically cut) compared with 39 per cent in the unmanaged compartment where large trees typically snapped and became snags. Uprooting, particularly of small and medium sized gapmakers, was less common in the managed than the unmanaged compartment. Our results indicate that even one single-tree selection harvest may lead to a short-term divergence in stand structure compared with the unmanaged forest. While such managed forests may no longer be considered as old-growth, divergences in canopy gap characteristics indicate that a more nuanced harvesting scheme that includes cutting some larger gaps may more closely mimic the canopy dynamics of this old-growth forest.
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