Growth and mortality of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) in response to artificial defoliation.
Julien Moulinier, François Lorenzetti, Yves Bergeron.
To simulate the effects of forest tent caterpillar (FTC) defoliation on trembling aspen growth and mortality, an artificial defoliation experiment was performed over three years in young aspen stands of northwestern Quebec. Defoliation plots of 15 × 15 m were established on three sites, together with associated control stands of pure trembling aspen. In 2007, root collar diameters were measured and positions of all trees were mapped prior defoliation. Severe FTC defoliation was simulated for three successive years (2007–2009) by manually removing all leaves from all but 7–10% of the trees present in the defoliation plots. Yearly surveys of growth and mortality were conducted until 2010 to evaluate defoliation effects on defoliated as well as surrounding undefoliated trees. In absence of other factors, growth and mortality of trembling aspen decreased and increased, respectively, after defoliation. Our study further revealed that small diameter trees died after one year of artificial defoliation, while larger-diameter trees died after repeated defoliations. Distributions of tree mortality tended to be aggregated at small scales (<5 m), corroborating gap patterns observed in mature stands following FTC outbreaks. This experiment revealed that trembling aspen mortality can be directly attributed solely to defoliation. Repeated defoliations during FTC outbreaks have the potential to profoundly modify stand productivity and structure by reducing tree growth and increasing tree mortality in the absence of predisposing factors.