Ecosystem management based on large-scale disturbance pulses: A case study from sub-boreal forests of western Quebec (Canada).
Mathieu Bouchard, Daniel Kneeshaw, Yves Bergeron.
The northern Témiscamingue region (western Québec) sustained regional-scale pulses of natural disturbances during the 1850–2000 period, such as severe fires during the 1908–1926 period, two severe spruce budworm outbreaks that occurred in 1909–1918 and 1974–1984, and two birch dieback episodes around 1940 and 1980. These disturbances produced synchronous fluctuations in forest characteristics over large spatial scales. In this paper, we review possible responses of flora and fauna to pulsed large-scale disturbance events and speculate on whether they should be emulated to reduce the impacts of forest management on non-timber resources. The importance of large-scale disturbance pulses for biodiversity and forest ecosystem integrity is potentially great, but this aspect has been poorly investigated by previous research, and thus there is little information available to guide forest management. Large-scale, synchronous disturbances could be emulated by clustering harvesting activities in time, for example by creating “harvest pulses” of 10–20 years, separated by periods of 50–100 years or so with low harvest rates. A potential disadvantage of this strategy is that when our capacity to predict future natural disturbances is low, there is a higher probability of accidentally taking the forest ecosystem outside of the range of natural variability compared with a status quo forest management scenario. From a socio-economic perspective, another potential disadvantage is in creating irregular wood flows to the forest transformation industry. Nonetheless, in a context where the forest has been over-disturbed in the recent past, a forest management strategy involving fluctuating harvest rates could provide the means for faster ecosystem recovery compared with a status quo strategy. We recommend that the potential importance of disturbance pulses for boreal and sub-boreal ecosystems be more thoroughly investigated by future research to inform management and conservation policies. © Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.