Canadian Forest Service Publications

How do natural disturbances and human activities affect soils and tree nutrition and growth in the Canadian boreal forest? 2014. Maynard, D.G.; Paré, D.; Thiffault, E.; Lafleur, B.; Hogg, K.E.; Kishchuk, B. Environmental Reviews. 22(2):161-178.

Year: 2014

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35368

Language: English

Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/er-2013-0057

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There are concerns about the effect of increasing resource extraction and other human activities on the soils and vegetation of the boreal zone. The review covers published papers between 1974 and 2012 to assess the effects of natural disturbances and human activities on soils and tree nutrition and growth of the Canadian boreal zone. Changes in soil and foliar nutrients following disturbance were also analyzed by meta-analysis. When sufficient replicated studies were not available for a given disturbance or nutrient, response assessments or narrative summaries are presented. The majority of fertilization studies in the boreal zone showed a positive tree growth response to nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilization either individually or in combination. Large amounts of N may be lost through volatilization following fire depending on the severity and frequency of the fire. This may contribute to N limitation in the boreal zone. Available soil P and extractable calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) increased in the surface horizons following fire. In contrast, extractable P decreased following harvest. Harvesting had no effect on total or inorganic N except in mixedwoods where total N decreased in the surface organic horizon following harvest. These are potential areas of concern given tree growth responses to N and P fertilization. Potassium (K) in the forest floor did not change following fire or harvesting; thus, K availability for tree nutrition should not be at risk, since its cycle is rapidly restored. Mercury (Hg) cycling may be altered in the boreal zone as a result of flooding and if fire return intervals and intensities increase. Interactions of multiple disturbances may increase the risk of nutrient depletions, but there is currently little information on these interactions in the boreal zone. Evidence to date suggests the soils of the Canadian boreal zone have not been adversely affected except in localized areas. However, there is the risk of nutrient loss if soils are not considered in our forest management strategies, particularly where multiple disturbances may interact. The potential for off-site movement of nutrients and contaminants into the atmospheric and aquatic ecosystems, in addition to on-site environmental issues, is also a concern.

Plain Language Summary

In this paper, we review data on nutrient limitations and how natural and human activities affect soils and tree nutrition and growth in the Canadian boreal forest. Soils of the boreal zone vary across the landscape and are generally limited in nitrogen and phosphorus. Evidence to date indicates, overall, soils of the Canadian boreal zone have not been adversely affected by human activity. There are, however, site-specific cases of adverse effects on nutrient availability and areas of potential concern.