Canadian Forest Service Publications

Forest productivity decline caused by successional paludification of boreal soils. 2007. Simard, M.; Lecomte, N.; Bergeron, Y.; Bernier, P.Y.; Paré, D. Ecol. Appl. 17: 1619-1637.

Year: 2007

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 28035

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

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Long-term forest productivity decline in boreal forests has been extensively studied in the last decades, yet its causes are still unclear. Soil conditions associated with soil organic matter accumulation are thought to be responsible for site productivity decline. The objectives of this study were to determine if paludification of boreal soils resulted in reduced forest productivity, and to identify changes in the physical and chemical properties of soils associated with reduction in productivity. We used a chronosequence of 23 black spruce stands ranging in postfire age from 50 to 2350 years and calculated three different stand productivity indices, including site index. We assessed changes in forest productivity with time using two complementary approaches: (1) by comparing productivity among the chronosequence stands and (2) by comparing the productivity of successive cohorts of trees within the same stands to determine the influence of time independently of other site factors. Charcoal stratigraphy indicates that the forest stands differ in their fire history and originated either from high- or low-severity soil burns. Both chronosequence and cohort approaches demonstrate declines in black spruce productivity of 50–80% with increased paludification, particularly during the first centuries after fire. Paludification alters bryophyte abundance and succession, increases soil moisture, reduces soil temperature and nutrient availability, and alters the vertical distribution of roots. Low-severity soil burns significantly accelerate rates of paludification and productivity decline compared with high-severity fires and ultimately reduce nutrient content in black spruce needles. The two combined approaches indicate that paludification can be driven by forest succession only, independently of site factors such as position on slope. This successional paludification contrasts with edaphic paludification, where topography and drainage primarily control the extent and rate of paludification. At the landscape scale, the fire regime (frequency and severity) controls paludification and forest productivity through its effect on soil organic layers. Implications for global carbon budgets and sustainable forestry are discussed.