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Decline of an ecotone forest: 50 years of demography in the southern boreal forest
- Birch, Joseph D., Lutz, James A., Hogg, E. H., Simard, Suzanne W., Pelletier, Rick, LaRoi, George H., Karst, Justine
- Ecosphere 2019 v.10 no.4 pp. e02698
- boreal forests, bark beetles, community structure, ecotones, drought, stand density, species recruitment, Malacosoma disstria, trees, demography, dieback, biomass, stand basal area, mortality
- Variation in tree recruitment, mortality, and growth can alter forest community composition and structure. Because tree recruitment and mortality events are generally infrequent, long‐time scales are needed to confirm trends in forests. We performed a 50‐yr demographic census of a forest plot located on the southern edge of the Canadian boreal forest, a region currently experiencing forest die‐back in response to direct and indirect effects of recent severe droughts. Here, we show that over the last 30 yr biomass, basal area, growth, and recruitment have decreased along with a precipitous rise in mortality across the dominant tree species. The stand experienced periods of drought in combination with multiple outbreaks of forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) and bark beetles. These insect disturbances interacted to increase mortality rates within the stand and decrease stand density. The interaction of endogenous and exogenous factors may shift forests in this region onto novel successional trajectories with the possibility of changes in regional vegetation type.