Main content area

Group-selection silviculture conditionally enhances recruitment of yellow birch in a shade-tolerant hardwood forest

Shabaga, Jason A., Jones, Trevor A., Elliott, Ken A.
Forest ecology and management 2019 v.444 pp. 244-255
Acer saccharum subsp. saccharum, Betula alleghaniensis, autumn, climate, disturbed soils, edaphic factors, germination, hardwood forests, harvesting, shade tolerance, shelterwood systems, stems, trees, vegetation cover, winter, Ontario
Wide-spread use of single-tree harvest methods has inhibited regeneration of yellow birch in shade-tolerant hardwood forests. Shelterwood harvesting can improve recruitment, but incurs higher costs, longer harvesting cycles, and produces an even-aged structure. Group selection (GS) harvesting provides an alternative method with the benefits of single-tree selection (STS; mixed-ages, shorter cycles), yet produces larger gaps that may favour recruitment of mid/intolerant tree species. Recent GS trial studies have shown promise, but results vary and differences in edaphic conditions and competition dynamics associated with climate, historical management, and season of harvesting may influence responses. We evaluated the yellow birch recruitment efficacy of GS in an Ontario shade-tolerant hardwood forest by comparing change in regeneration as percent ground cover (stems <50 cm) and large stem density (>50 cm) over ten years in STS harvested and unharvested forest relative to two types of GS gaps: “typical” gaps placed in suitable microsites, and indiscriminate “systematic” interval gaps harvested on a grid.Autumn-harvested gaps established 2–4× more yellow birch cover and recruited 7–10× more large stems by year ten than STS and winter harvested gaps; unharvested controls remained unchanged. Typical gaps recruited 3× more stems than systematic gaps in autumn-only. Soil disturbance and seed tree proximity were correlated to establishment of yellow birch cover in year 1, which predicted large stem recruitment by year 10. Winter-harvesting favoured sugar maple cover in year 1, which predicted lower yellow birch recruitment by year 10. These results indicate that autumn-harvested typical gaps optimised germination and growth conditions for yellow birch (light availability, soil disturbance, reduced competition, seed proximity/dispersal). Consequently, GS harvesting in autumn can be considered an effective alternative to shelterwood harvesting for yellow birch recruitment in poorly-represented shade-tolerant hardwood stands.