More info for the terms: basal area, climax, cover, density, fire exclusion, fire frequency, fire severity, frequency, hardwood, hydroperiod, natural, peat, severity, succession, swamp, top-kill, tree
Succession in sweetbay habitats is a complex process influenced by a variety of factors including hydrology, climate, and site fertility, as well as disturbance frequency and severity . In general, sweetbay is shade tolerant, although tolerance may decrease with age [75,99], and typically sprouts following top-kill or damage [58,71], making it a potential species in both late- and early-seral communities. Sweetbay establishes early in primary and secondary succession of tree islands in the Okefenokee Swamp. Primary succession was monitored on peat masses or "batteries" that broke loose from islands. Secondary succession was evaluated after fire on tree islands. Sweetbay colonized peat masses within 30 years and likely sprouted immediately after fire. Sweetbay was also one of the oldest trees on islands undergoing primary succession with no evidence of fire and persisted in old-growth cypress-pine islands, where the oldest cypress trees were more than 500 years old [31,32].
In many areas, sweetbay is considered a late-seral or climax species. In eastern Texas, sweetbay was noted in a "mesophytic climax forest type" . Bayhead communities dominated by loblolly-bay, sweetbay, and redbay in north-central Florida were considered the climax type on seasonally flooded, peaty areas . On the southeastern Coastal Plain, sweetbay was reported as a likely climax species on sites not wet enough to support swamp forests  and occurred in the slash pine-hardwood forest type considered part of the "climax acid swamp complex" . On Maryland's eastern shore, loblolly pine dominates early succession and sweetbay is likely in the climax stage . In a review of evergreen bay forests, McKevlin  noted that since successional change is affected by fire frequency, fire severity, climate, hydrology, and site fertility a "myriad" of successional types is possible, but also noted that mature evergreen bay forests are "indeed both climax and ancient relative to surrounding cover types".
Often the lack of fire in pine forests and flatwoods, cypress swamps, and Atlantic white-cedar stands leads to the development of bay forests or mixed hardwood swamps where sweetbay is common [13,89,108,130,133]. On Bradwell Bay, in Florida's Apalachicola National Forest, the understory of an open, old-growth slash pine stand of trees over 100 feet (30 m) tall was dominated by swamp tupelo and sweetbay. Sweetbay seedlings occurred on every transect, and researchers presumed that the slash pine forest would become a bay forest in the absence of fire . In Alabama's Flomaton Natural Area, sweetbay made up less than 0.1% of the tree layer basal area, but contributed more to the sapling and seedling layers in longleaf pine stands unburned for 45 years or more. Researchers suggested that sweetbay importance increased in the absence of fire . Sweetbay seedling and sprout clump densities increased with fire exclusion in 38-year-old shortleaf pine stands in southern New Jersey .
The rate and path of secondary succession in potential sweetbay habitats is dependent on the predisturbance environment, the severity and/or frequency of the disturbance, as well as the postdisturbance environment. After studying succession in north-central Florida, Monk  indicated that "soil fertility seems more important in the direction of succession to different portions of the climax communities than as a limiting factor maintaining communities in a successional stage". In North Carolina, fire and hydroperiod were important in pocosin and bay forest development and maintenance. Mature vegetation developed rapidly on dry sites and more slowly on the wettest sites. The relationship among potential vegetation types, with hydrology and fire frequency in North Carolina's Green Swamp are illustrated in Figure 1 below :
Figure 1. Potential vegetation types of North Carolina's Green Swamp depending on fire frequency and hydroperiod .
Postfire community composition is determined by depth of burning and postfire water levels. If fires burn deeply in evergreen bay forests and postfire water levels are low, a deciduous bay forest is typical after fire. If water levels are high after a shallow burn, pocosin vegetation or Atlantic white-cedar forests are common. If water levels are high after a deeply penetrating fire, sedge bogs will likely dominate . Fire frequency is also important in determining the vegetation composition in bay swamps, pocosins, and savannas of the Southeast. Without fire, swamp forests may develop; on sites where fires occur about every 10 years, pocosins are likely; and on annually burned sites, grass-sedge savannas are most common  (Wells and Whitford, as cited in ). This topic is also discussed in Fire frequency.
Sweetbay typically sprouts and is present soon after top-killing disturbances when it was present in the predisturbance community. In the available literature (2008), the dispersal and establishment of sweetbay on new sites received little attention. In the Croatan National Forest, sweetbay occurred in longleaf pine stands that were logged, planted to loblolly pine plantations, and burned at 5- to 10-year intervals . Sweetbay averaged 11.5 sprouts/stump 2 years after clearcutting in a forest dominated by sweetbay and swamp tupelo in Escambia River Drainage basin in southwestern Alabama. Eight years after logging, the density of sweetbay sprouts was greater on helicopter-logged than on conventional skidder-logged sites . In bottomland hardwood forests in southeastern Virginia or northeastern North Carolina, sweetbay was present 2 to 15 years after clearcutting . In 8-year-old loblolly pine plantations in the South, sweetbay occurred in plantations where herbaceous vegetation was controlled for 4 years but did not occur in plantations without control .
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