Forest dynamics after successive spruce budworm outbreaks in mixedwood forests.
Mathieu Bouchard, Daniel Kneeshaw, Yves Bergeron.
In order to assess the long-term spatiotemporal influence of the spruce
budworm in sub-boreal mixedwood forests, we studied the effect of three successive outbreaks
in a region of western Quebec, Canada. We used dendrochronology to detect past outbreaks in
three areas (111–185 ha), based on the recruitment age of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and on
growth patterns of white spruce (Picea glauca), the two main host species of this defoliating
insect. We also used a series of aerial photographs taken between 1935 and 2003 to evaluate
overstory mortality and post-outbreak succession patterns in these same areas. Individual
outbreaks had a spatially homogenous impact on host species throughout the region, but
successive outbreaks differed in intensity: the two outbreaks around 1910 and 1980 caused
widespread mortality in the overstory, but an outbreak around 1945 had little impact,
probably because the forest mosaic had not yet recuperated from the 1910 outbreak. No clear
outbreak was detected in the later part of the 19th century. In portions of the study areas
where the 1910 outbreak had a major impact, between 36% and 50% of the stands were
reoccupied by balsam fir stands in the period up to the 1980 outbreak (cyclic succession), the
rest being at least partly replaced by nonhost species such as Betula spp. Changes in forest
composition after the 1910 outbreak were mostly associated with upper-slope positions in all
study areas. The 1980 outbreak also had a higher impact than earlier outbreaks in lower-slope
positions dominated by black spruce (Picea mariana)–balsam fir mixtures. These results
suggest that, at the regional scale, the abundance of mature or over-mature balsam fir stands
does not determine the outbreak cycle. When an outbreak occurs, however, its impact will be
strongly constrained by forest characteristics such as stand composition and structure, which
are themselves influenced by previous disturbances and slope position.