Canadian Forest Service Publications

Partial windthrow as a driving process of forest dynamics in old-growth boreal forests. 2014. Girard, F.; De Grandpré, L.; Ruel, J.-C. Can. J. For. Res. 44:1165-1176.

Year: 2014

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35821

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/cjfr-2013-0224

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As climate changes, boreal forest ecosystems may become subject to disturbances that were previously uncommon in some regions. In recent decades, large tracts of northeastern boreal forest of Canada have been affected by different types of climatic events causing a lot of partial and some total stand mortality. Since these disturbances may become more important drivers of forest dynamics, there is a need to document their impact on forest structure. The objectives of this study were to describe temporal dynamics of partial windthrows and determine the effect of partial windthrow on stand composition and understory vegetation. The study was conducted in the North-Shore region of Quebec (Canada). Eighteen plots in closed forests were paired with 18 adjacent windthrow areas, in which trees experienced similar edaphic and climatic conditions. Dendroecological analyses, combined with vegetation sampling, were conducted on each site to determine stand structure and vegetation development through time. Significant increases in balsam fir and shade-tolerant species were observed in windthrow gaps. Tree mortality in windthrown stands was a slow process until the mid-1990s, a period during which spruce budworm defoliation may have played a role in weakening trees and making them more vulnerable to partial windthrow. Greater mortality observed following the mid-1990s was most certainly related to a regional storm. The initial composition of stands plays an important role in driving postwindthrow succession, as balsam fir is more susceptible to treefall. As opposed to stand-replacing windthrow and spruce budworm outbreaks that generate various postdisturbance responses, partial windthrow appears to only create opportunities for pre-established balsam fir to undergo release in gaps.

Plain Language Summary

This study showed that partial windthrow (a tree or group of trees thrown down, uprooted or broken by the wind) in the eastern boreal forest is a slow disturbance process (over several decades) that characterizes old-growth forests and mature stands.

When these forests open up due to the death of one or more trees, they become more vulnerable to winds. Over the last decades, large areas of these forests have been affected by natural disturbances such as spruce budworm outbreaks, causing partial mortality in forest stands and making them more vulnerable to winds.

With climate change, boreal forest ecosystems could experience an increasing number of disturbances, which would increase their vulnerability to windthrow.