Managing understory light conditions in boreal mixedwoods through variation in the intensity and spatial pattern of harvest: A modelling approach.
Marilou Beaudet, Brian Harvey, Christian Messier, David Coates, Julie Poulin, Daniel Kneeshaw, Suzanne Brais, Yves Bergeron.
In the context of partial harvesting, adequately managing post-harvest light conditions are essential to obtain a desired composition of tree species regeneration. The objective of this study was to determine how varying the intensity and spatial pattern of harvest would affect understory light conditions in boreal mixedwood stands of northwestern Quebec using the spatially explicit SORTIE-ND light model. The model was evaluated based on comparisons of observed and predicted light levels in both mapped and un-mapped plots. In mapped plots, reasonably accurate predictions of the overall variation in light levels were obtained, but predictions tended to lack spatial precision. In un-mapped plots, SORTIE-ND accurately predicted stand-level mean GLI (Gap Light Index) under a range of harvest intensities. The model was then used to simulate nine silvicultural treatments based on combinations of three intensities of overstory removal (30%, 45% and 60% of basal area) and three harvest patterns (uniform, narrow strips, large gaps). Simulations showed that increasing overstory removal had less impact on light conditions with uniform harvests, and a more marked effect with more aggregated harvest patterns. Whatever the harvest intensity, uniform cuts almost never created high light conditions (GLI > 50%). Gap cuts, on the other hand, resulted in up to 40% of microsites receiving GLI > 50%. Our results suggest that either a 30% strip or gap cut or a 45–60% uniform partial harvest could be used to accelerate the transition from an aspen dominated composition to a mixedwood stand because both types of cut generate the greatest proportion of moderately low light levels (e.g., 15–40% GLI). These light levels tend to favour an accelerated growth response among shade-tolerant conifers, while preventing excessive recruitment of shade-intolerant species. A better understanding of how spatial patterns of harvest interact with tree removal intensity to affect understory light conditions can provide opportunities for designing silvicultural prescriptions that are tailored to species’ traits and better suited to meet a variety of management objectives.