Canadian Forest Service Publications

Intensive forest harvesting increases susceptibility of northern forest soils to carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus loss. Hume, A.M.; Chen, H.Y.H.; Taylor, A.R. 2017. Journal of Applied Ecology: online early.

Year: 2017

Issued by: Atlantic Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39125

Language: English

Availability: Not available through the CFS (click for more information).

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12942

† This site may require a fee

Mark record


  1. Understanding the impact of forest harvesting is critical to sustainable forest management, yet there remains much uncertainty regarding how harvesting affects soil carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) dynamics.
  2. Here, we conducted a global meta‐analysis of 808 observations from 49 studies to test the effects of harvesting on the stocks and concentrations of soil C, N and P and C:N:P ratios relative to uncut control stands.
  3. With all harvesting intensities combined, C stock was unaffected by harvesting in either the forest floor or mineral soil, while harvesting reduced forest floor [C], [N] and [P] and C:N ratio, increased the mineral soil [C] and C:N ratio, but reduced mineral soil N stock. The impacts of harvesting on forest floor C and N stocks, C:P and N:P and mineral soil [C] and [N] changed from no effects by partial, stem‐only and whole‐tree harvesting (WTH) to significantly negative effects by the harvesting coupled with fire. Stem‐only and WTH similarly reduced forest floor [P]. The negative effects of harvesting were most pronounced in conifer stands. Soil [C], [N] and C:N decreased with time since harvesting, but soil [P] did not, resulting in an increase in forest floor N:P.
  4. Synthesis and applications. Our findings highlight the importance of harvest intensity and rotation length on long‐term soil nutrient availability when managing forests. Furthermore, the lag in the recovery of phosphorus concentration following harvesting may indicate a decoupling of the phosphorus cycle from those of carbon and nitrogen, and a potential concern in managed forests.

Plain Language Summary

Soil nutrient availability, particularly nitrogen [N] and phosphorus [P], are important indicators of forest productivity. We used a long-term chronosequence of boreal forest stands to examine the influence of stand age and overstory composition on the long-term trends of soil N and P and their stoichiometric ratios in the boreal forest of central Canada. We found that N and P were most limited in the soil during intermediate stages of succession (e.g., stem exclusion stage) when trees are growing rapidly and accumulating high standing biomass, especially in conifer stands.