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Wood quality of black spruce and balsam fir trees defoliated by spruce budworm: A case study in the boreal forest of Quebec, Canada

Paixao, Carlos, Krause, Cornelia, Morin, Hubert, Achim, Alexis
Forest ecology and management 2019 v.437 pp. 201-210
Abies balsamea, Choristoneura fumiferana, Picea mariana, boreal forests, case studies, coniferous forests, defoliating insects, defoliation, earlywood, hosts, latewood, mortality, stemwood, trees, wood density, wood quality, Quebec
Spruce budworm (SBW – Choristoneura fumiferana Clem.) is one of the most damaging defoliating insects in the coniferous forests of eastern North America. In Canada, the widely distributed balsam fir (Abies balsamea L. (Mill)) and black spruce (Picea mariana B.S.P. (Mill)) are its most important hosts. Defoliation by SBW reduces growth in the host trees and can lead to host mortality. Although SBW impacts on growth are well documented, much less is known about changes in wood properties resulting from defoliation. To address this knowledge gap, we sampled 36 SBW-infested stands located in the boreal forest of Quebec (Canada) to determine whether defoliation modifies the wood quality of affected trees. The selected stands had been subjected to one to four years of SBW defoliation. For both species, we assessed ring growth, wood density, and the anatomical characteristics of stem wood formed during the outbreak years. We determined that rings formed during the SBW outbreak had a significant and progressive loss of biomass production with a longer duration of defoliation. SBW significantly reduced latewood density in the second and third year of defoliation for black spruce and the third and fourth year for balsam fir. Average ring density was reduced only in black spruce and only after four years of defoliation. The observed changes in growth and density were associated with changes in anatomical features. While the cellular characteristics of the earlywood remained fairly constant, significant reductions occurred in latewood cell-wall thickness after three years of defoliation. Our study shows that not only do SBW outbreaks reduce annual radial growth, but the cellular characteristics in latewood cells are also modified momentarily. Thus, SBW outbreaks affect wood density and quality in both black spruce and balsam fir.