Woody Vegetation

MDC staff measuring an overstory tree

Why we care

There are 15.5 million acres of forest in Missouri, which covers 34% of the state. Missouri’s forests support many species of bird, wildlife, and invertebrate species by providing habitat and food. Did you know that oak trees, our dominant tree species in Missouri, support the highest diversity of butterflies and moths? These butterfly and moths are a critical food source for our breeding bird species and are important pollinators.

Forest benefits are not limited to just birds, wildlife, and invertebrates, they provide many benefits to people as well. Forests contribute to local economies by providing wood products for buildings, railways, and much more! Forests also have many other essential functions. Forests store carbon, which helps regulate our climate, they create oxygen, they store and filter water, and their root systems prevent erosion and runoff to name a few.


Evaluate the impacts of forest management on the composition and structure of woody trees, saplings, sprouts, and seedlings.

Project Design

• Inventories are conducted on 648 half-acre vegetation plots, randomly placed across nine sites. These are the same vegetation plots used in the ground flora project.
• Trees, saplings, and woody regeneration are sampled in successively smaller nested subplots
• Sampling occurs in the dormant season every four years and in the years pre- and post-harvest.

Vegetation plot design

Lessons Learned

• In the 15-year interval between the first two harvests, tree basal area on even-aged and uneven-aged sites rebounded to nearly the level of no harvest sites.
• In the overstory of all sites, black oak and scarlet oak decreased while white oaks increased, indicating a potential compositional shift.
• Recruitment of red oaks into larger size classes is occurring only on even-aged sites, mostly localized to clearcuts .

Overstory graph

• Recruitment of white oaks and hickories has occurred on both even-aged and uneven-aged sites, with white oak recruitment being highest in combination group- and single-tree selection areas and in clearcuts.
• The density of red maple seedlings increased on all sites.
• Harvesting on both even-aged and uneven-age sites accelerated the replacement of declining older trees by more vigorous young trees, which should enhance forest health.

Management Recommendations

• To promote red and white oak regeneration, reduce stand basal area to at least 25 ft2/acre and 45 ft2/acre, respectively.
• Red oak regeneration will be most successful on poorer quality sites and when advance regeneration density exceeds roughly 450 stems/acre.
• If relying on uneven-aged methods, group-selection harvests will result in higher densities of total regeneration and of white oak regeneration than will single-tree selection harvests.
• To promote shortleaf pine regeneration, additional treatments will be required to prepare the seedbed and to control competing hardwood vegetation.
• Monitor red maples during the seedling-to-sapling transition; on higher quality sites the species may maintain a competitive advantage.

Project Updates

MOFEP Woody Vegetation Project News

• March 31, 2023- The MOFEP Woody Vegetation crew wraps up a successful field season. The crew completed surveys of all 648 vegetation plots!
• October 15, 2022- The 8 person Woody Vegetation crew arrived to start their field season.
• June 1, 2022- Dr. Knapp (Associate Professor, University of Missouri) and co-authors publish “Escaping the fire trap: Does frequent, landscape-scale burning inhibit tree recruitment in a temperate broadleaf ecosystem?” in Forest Ecology and Management.
• October 1, 2021- The Missouri Conservationist publishes a NatureLab article about MOFEP's contribution to MDC's new integrated planning tool. View the article here.
• August 26, 2021- Dr. Zhaofei Fan published "Scale effects on the prediction of rare events in mature second-growth oak forests: a simulation study of cavity trees" in Forestry Research. Find the publication here.
• May 25, 2021- MOFEP site tour for University of Missouri forestry students.
• January 2021- Dr. Shunzhong Wang (Visiting Scholar, University of Missouri) and co-authors publish “Forest management effects on downed dead wood at stand and landscape scales in a temperate forest of the central United States” in Forest Ecology and Management.
• October 2020- Dr. Benjamin Knapp (Associate Professor, University of Missouri) presented the recent downed dead wood research at the Society of American Foresters National Convention.
• October 16, 2019- Brad Graham joins the MOFEP team as the new Overstory Project Lead and MDC Forest Ecologist. Welcome, Brad!
• October 4, 2019- Dr. Robert Marquis (Professor, University of Missouri – St. Louis) and co-authors publish “Declines and Resilience of Communities of Leaf Chewing Insects on Missouri Oaks Following Spring Frost and Summer Drought” in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
• June 4, 2019- MOFEP site tour for University of Missouri forestry students. Learn more here
• June 2019- Dr. Robert Marquis (Professor, University of Missouri – St. Louis) and co-authors publish “Illustrated Guide to the Immature Lepidoptera on Oaks in Missouri” from data collected on MOFEP. The guide is available for download at Illustrated Guide to the Immature Lepidopteran on Oaks in Missouri ( .

Project Datasets

No datasets have been added to this project.

Project Papers & Presentations


MOFEP, Plant Research