Understory and epiphytic vegetation as indicators of the ecological integrity of managed forests: a synthesis of the special issue Understory and epiphytic vegetation as indicators of the ecological integrity of managed forests: a synthesis of the special issue.
Sybille Haeussler, Ellen MacDonald, Sophie Gachet, Yves Bergeron.
In eastern Canada, boreal forests develop structural diversity in association with time since stand replacing fire. In some regions, this is associated with significant changes in the bryophyte community (Sphagnum moss invasion) and paludification (thick waterlogged forest floor development). The bryophyte community responds to opening of the canopy, and increasing moisture by replacement of slow growing species by faster growing Sphagnum spp. (e.g. magellanicum, fallax) that are dependent on constant hydration. Within a forest management context, partial harvest systems have been proposed as a strategy to maintain structural diversity, which is currently not accomplished with low retention systems. However, it is unknown whether these interventions will effectively accelerate community succession. The questions addressed in this study were: (1) is the composition of Sphagnum colonies in partially cut stands more similar to old-growth communities than in control, and low retention cut stands, (2) what aspects of harvest disturbance drive these changes, and (3) is the growth rate of Sphagnum capillifolium (an early successional shade tolerant species) different in partial versus low retention harvest systems? After harvest, Sphagnum patch size was reduced by 19.8% and 11.7% after low retention and partial harvest, respectively. While trends were not constant across three separate partial cut trials, the proportion of Sphagnum magellanicum, Sphagnum fallax and Sphagnum fuscum increased compared to controls and low retention 1–2 years after harvest. Models of percent Sphagnum cover indicated machinery track cover, percent cover of vascular plants, and patch depth were positive factors, while the influence of open canopy varied among species. Despite the inclusion of individual disturbance variables, the summary variable ‘treatment’ was significant in all models. Growth of S. capillifolium in partial cuts was intermediate to growth rates in control and low-retention cuts. Growth was positively influenced by slash cover and, contrary to the patch level, negatively influenced by track cover. These results indicate that partial harvest does represent an intermediate level of disturbance, as direct and indirect harvest effects were reduced, as was Sphagnum death. Change in composition 1 and 2 years after harvest indicates that partial harvests may effectively shift the bryophyte community towards an older community type and may thus be used to create landscape diversity. Long term trends and entire community compositions need to be assessed before this can be stated definitively. However, as paludified stands are less productive, the capacity of these partially harvested sites to produce merchantable timber is questioned.© 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.