Canopy Gaps: Room to Grow

Sun-loving juvenile oak trees get a boost from gaps formed in a forest canopy when a tree falls.
Photographer: Tom Paradis, courtesy of CUE, NPS. Inset (white oak seedling): Erin Lunsford Jones
Gaps in the canopy due to the loss of one to several trees to disease, ice, or wind allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, facilitating the growth of seedlings and saplings in the understory.

These small-scale canopy gaps can help maintain natural communities, by allowing new trees to become part of the canopy.

But when large sections of forest are leveled by severe storms or landslides, the forest’s character will be radically reshaped, at least in the near term, if not permanently. This is especially true if non-native invasive plants are nearby, ready to encroach into newly opened spaces.