Key ecosystem attributes and productivity of boreal stands 20 years after the onset of silviculture scenarios of increasing intensity.
Morgane Urli, Nelson Thiffault, Martin Barrette, Louis Bélanger, Alain Leduc, Daniel Chalifour.
Ecosystem-based management, now a dominant forestry paradigm, implies reducing the gap between variability of natural and managed forests (i.e. ecological distance) to reconcile ecological issues with production of socioeconomic services. Here, we tested whether a trade-off exists between conserving key ecosystem attributes of natural forests and maintaining and/or increasing merchantable wood production at the stand scale in humid boreal stands. Using 20-y data from an experimental design comparing silviculture scenarios of increasing intensity, (i) careful logging around advance growth (CLAAG); (ii) CLAAG followed by pre-commercial thinning; (iii) plantation followed by mechanical release; and (iv) plantation followed by chemical release, we examined plant community composition, stand structure and the quantity and the quality of snags. We also assessed timber productivity by comparing scenarios in terms of conifer and merchantable (diameter at breast height > 9 cm) tree dimensions. We used data from stands originating from a spruce budworm outbreak as a baseline to understand scenario impacts on variability of key attributes and productivity. Our results showed increasing differences in these attributes between natural and managed stands with increasing silviculture intensity: the diameter structure became more homogenized, light demanding species richness and abundance increased and the quantity and the quality of snags decreased. Therefore, our results showed that the ecological distance from naturally disturbed stands was lower after CLAAG than after the other silviculture scenarios. However, CLAAG favored an increase in the density of deciduous trees and a decrease of conifer snag density that have the potential to affect resilience of mature stands. Pre-commercial thinning resulted in crop trees reaching larger diameter than following CLAAG only and in the decrease of birch tree density, with no effect on deciduous regeneration density ? 60 cm in height. We measured higher basal area of merchantable trees in plantations than in stands originating from natural regeneration scenarios, with mechanical and chemical release scenarios resulting in similar crop tree productivity. Globally, our study confirmed a general antagonism between the impacts of silviculture on key ecosystem attributes and forest productivity, posing a challenge for reconciling ecological issues with the production of socioeconomic services. At the stand level, results support that retention forestry could emulate natural disturbances by conserving biological legacies during harvest in humid boreal forests. Further research is needed to determine retention parameters to achieve expected wood production while maintaining variability of key attributes in humid boreal forests. © 2017 Elsevier B.V.