The role of gaps and tree regeneration in the transition from dense to open black
Annick St-Denis, Daniel Kneeshaw, Yves Bergeron.
Black spruce forests growing on clay soils in northwestern Quebec change structure from dense even-aged stands to open uneven-aged stands such that almost all forests older than 200 years have an open canopy. These forests become unproductive over time because they are prone to paludification. The main goal of our study was to document the transition between dense and open stands in terms of gap dynamics, with a focus on tree regeneration. Our objective was to determine whether forests remain open due to a lack of regeneration, a lack of growth or both. Nine stands along a 50–250-year-old time since fire gradient were sampled with the line intersect sampling method. Gap fraction increased with stand age and reached a maximum of 77% in the oldest site. In old-growth stands, gaps were interconnected due to the low density of these forests. Most of the gap makers were found with broken stems. Regeneration was dominated by black spruce layers and was relatively abundant (1.71 stems/m2). However, the majority of gap fillers were smaller than 1 m in height in stands of all ages. Instead of a lack of regeneration, the opening of the forests is due to a lack of growth associated with cold and wet organic deposits. Partial harvesting could be implemented on the most productive sites, while management techniques including soil disturbances will be required on low productivity sites to recreate good growth conditions.