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White spruce regeneration following a major spruce beetle outbreak in forests on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Boggs, Keith, Sturdy, Michelle, Rinella, Daniel J., Rinella, Matthew J.
Forest ecology and management 2008 v.255 no.10 pp. 3571
Picea glauca, tree growth, natural regeneration, density, forest trees, stand structure, forest pests, Dendroctonus rufipennis, bark beetles, forest stands, seedlings, seedling growth, decayed wood, logs, stumps, rooting, forest litter, Calamagrostis canadensis, hybrids, Picea sitchensis, Alaska
Between 1987 and 2000, a spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) outbreak infested 1.19 million ha of spruce (Picea spp.) forests in Alaska, killing most of the large diameter trees. We evaluated whether these forests would recover to their pre-outbreak density, and determined the site conditions on which spruce germinated and survived following the spruce beetle outbreak in forests of the Anchor River watershed, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. White spruce (Picea glauca) and Lutz's spruce (Picea x lutzii), a hybrid between white and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), dominate the study area. We measured the pre- and post-outbreak density of spruce in 108 3mx80m plots across the study area by recording all live trees and all dead trees >1.5m tall in each plot. To determine the fine scale site conditions on which spruce germinated and survived, we measured ground surface and substrate characteristics within 20cm circular plots around a subset of post-outbreak spruce seedlings. The density of post-outbreak spruce (855/ha) was adequate to restock the stands to their pre-outbreak densities (643/ha) for trees >1.5m tall. We could not accurately estimate recovery for pre-outbreak spruce seedlings because dead seedlings may have decayed in the 5-18 years since the beetle outbreak occurred. At the fine scale, spruce that germinated post-outbreak grew on a wide variety of substrates including downed log, stump, mesic organic mat, peat, hummocks and mineral soil. They exhibited a strong preference for downed logs (53%) and stumps (4%), and most (91%) of the downed logs and stumps that spruce rooted on were heavily decayed. This preference for heavily decayed logs and stumps was especially evident given that their combined mean cover was only 2% in the 3mx80m plots. Within the 3mx80m plots, spruce seedling survival was negatively correlated with bluejoint (Calamagrostis canadensis) litter cover.