Height growth stagnation of planted spruce in boreal mixedwoods:
Importance of landscape, microsite, and growing-season frosts.
Benjamin Marquis, Philippe Duval, Yves Bergeron, Martin Simard, Nelson Thiffault, Francine Tremblay.
Reforestation in the boreal forest is challenging; trees must survive to large daily temperature variations and to the cold environment. Even if local tree species are adapted to withstand these harsh environmental conditions, spruce plantation failure after artificial regeneration occurs frequently, with important impacts on sustainable forest management. We hypothesized that this regeneration problem is caused by recurrent frost events occurring during the growing season. These events would freeze the terminal bud and the newly formed needles of the planted trees, thus limiting photosynthesis capacity and height growth. Our goal was to identify key permanent physical attributes of the landscape (elevation, slope shape and angular slope) and of microsite conditions (hole vs. mound) that best predict tree height and frost damage to foliage. In summer 2016 and 2017, we sampled tree height of 2,943 white spruce (Picea glauca [Moench] Voss) and black spruce (Picea mariana [Mill.] B.S.P.) trees in 66 monoculture plantations aged between 6 and 13 years distributed in the Clay Belt region of Quebec (Canada), and environment prone to frequent growing-season frosts. Using linear and binomial mixed regression models, we analyzed the effects of the physical attributes of the landscape and of microsite conditions on tree height (linear) and on frost damage (binomial). Tree height increased with increasing elevation and when seedlings were planted on mounds compared to planted in holes. The impact of microsite conditions on tree height increased as plantations aged, but the importance of elevation on tree height decreased with age. The probability of frost damage to foliage decreased for trees planted on mounds compared to trees planted in holes and from concave to convex slopes. These relations were most important in young plantations, but trees showing growth problems were still shorter by 2 m, even 13 years after planting. We also observed differences between species: white spruce was significantly more damaged by frost and was smaller compared to black spruce. Therefore, growing-season frosts can cause growth suppression problems in white spruce plantations established in the boreal mixedwood region. Since microsite conditions also play a key role in driving plantation success, mechanical site preparation techniques should not only focus on reducing the competition between the planted trees and the competing vegetation but should also focus on limiting frost damage by planting trees on elevated microsites. Our results will support forestry practices limiting plantation failure in boreal mixedwoods.