Canadian Forest Service Publications

Effects of prescribed burning and harvesting on ground-dwelling spiders in the Canadian boreal mixedwood forest. 2013. Pinzon, J.; Spence, J.; Langor, D. Biodiversity and Conservation 22(6-7): 1513-1536.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 34792

Language: English

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Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1007/s10531-013-0489-1

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The ‘Natural Disturbance Paradigm’ for forest management seeks to meet conservation goals by modeling industrial harvest in fire-driven forest systems on patterns associated with wildfire. Fire suppression and increased forest harvesting may have detrimental effects on biodiversity, and therefore prescribed burning is suggested to retain legacies of wildfire not emulated under natural disturbance based approaches. The merits of this approach are being tested in the EMEND experiment in the Canadian boreal mixedwood forest. We compared responses of ground-dwelling spiders between sites subjected to prescribed post-harvest burning and retention harvest during three seasons during the first 7 years after disturbance. Overall, 38,661 adult spiders representing 190 species were collected. Estimated species richness was highest in undisturbed sites in all 3 years. Burning had the strongest negative effect on species richness 1–2 years after treatment; however, richness was higher in burns than in harvested sites 5–6 years postdisturbance. Species turnover was highest within controls but tended to increase over time between burned and harvested plots. Lower turnover in burned and harvested sites may reflect habitat homogenization by disturbance, suggesting a management and conservation challenge in relation to naturally disturbed and undisturbed areas. Species were grouped into disturbance-specialists, disturbance-tolerant, disturbance-generalists and generalists; 22 species were significant indicators for untreated sites, 18 for the burn and three for the harvest treatments. No major differences were observed in the spider fauna between harvested and burned areas within the first 6–7 years post-disturbance, and little evidence of recovery toward the pre-harvest fauna was evidenced. However, long term experiments may improve understanding of natural disturbance processes and improve management of boreal forests.

Plain Language Summary

This paper compares the impacts of fire and harvesting on forest biodiversity. We compared the impacts of a planned or “prescribed” fire after harvest with those of partial harvesting alone on the numbers, diversity, and communities of spiders for up to 6 years afterward.. This is the first such comparison of fire and harvesting in the large Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) project in northwest Alberta, which investigates how forest ecosystems can be better managed to emulate natural disturbances such as fires. Both fire and harvesting had profound impacts on spiders, tending to make spider species uniform over the landscape. However, the two types of disturbance resulted in differences in species composition, indicating that they are not similar from an ecological standpoint. Even 5 or 6 years after fire or harvest, the spiders had not returned to their original numbers and diversity. However, this study found that partial harvesting followed by prescribed burning is a good substitute for wildfire. This provides some support that using this particular fire treatment at EMEND is a reasonable way to compare wildfire to harvest treatments.