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Partial windthrow as a driving process of forest dynamics in old-growth boreal forests

Girard, François, De Grandpré, Louis, Ruel, Jean-Claude
Canadian journal of forest research = 2014 v.44 no.10 pp. 1165-1176
Abies balsamea, Choristoneura fumiferana, boreal forests, climate change, climatic factors, defoliation, forest ecosystems, mortality, shade tolerance, stand composition, stand structure, storms, temporal variation, tree mortality, trees, understory, windthrow, Quebec
As climate changes, boreal forest ecosystems may become subject to disturbances that were previously uncommon in some regions. In recent decades, large tracts of northeastern boreal forest of Canada have been affected by different types of climatic events causing a lot of partial and some total stand mortality. Since these disturbances may become more important drivers of forest dynamics, there is a need to document their impact on forest structure. The objectives of this study were to describe temporal dynamics of partial windthrows and determine the effect of partial windthrow on stand composition and understory vegetation. The study was conducted in the North-Shore region of Quebec (Canada). Eighteen plots in closed forests were paired with 18 adjacent windthrow areas, in which trees experienced similar edaphic and climatic conditions. Dendroecological analyses, combined with vegetation sampling, were conducted on each site to determine stand structure and vegetation development through time. Significant increases in balsam fir and shade-tolerant species were observed in windthrow gaps. Tree mortality in windthrown stands was a slow process until the mid-1990s, a period during which spruce budworm defoliation may have played a role in weakening trees and making them more vulnerable to partial windthrow. Greater mortality observed following the mid-1990s was most certainly related to a regional storm. The initial composition of stands plays an important role in driving postwindthrow succession, as balsam fir is more susceptible to treefall. As opposed to stand-replacing windthrow and spruce budworm outbreaks that generate various postdisturbance responses, partial windthrow appears to only create opportunities for pre-established balsam fir to undergo release in gaps.