Survival and Growth of Residual Trees in a Variable Retention Harvest Experiment in a Boreal Mixedwood Forest
Forest Ecology and Management
Long-term sustainability of forest resources is in question given wide-spread use of conventional clear-cut silviculture. In response, variable retention (VR) harvest has been increasingly promoted as a landscape-based approach to enhance sustainability by maintaining biodiversity and other ecosystem functions in managed forests. Although the success of the VR approach depends on post-harvest stand dynamics, little is known about growth and mortality of residual trees after harvest and how such trees respond to interactions between amount of retention and tree or site level covariates. We use data from three censuses distributed over a 10-year period of the main merchantable species to study the effects of retention level (i.e., percent of trees retained), mixedwood cover type, tree species, and three tree or terrain covariates (tree stem diameter, percent live crown, and soil wetness) on survival and growth of residual trees in a retention harvest experiment in NW Alberta, Canada. Both mortality and growth of residual trees were negatively related to retention levels. During the first five-year period after harvest, effects of retention levels on mortality were more evident for white spruce (Picea glauca) than for Populus spp., but effects on growth were weaker for white spruce. Tree mortality decreased through time following VR harvest for all species and in most cover types, while trends in tree growth varied by species. During the second five-year period after harvest, growth of residual Populus spp. had decreased from high levels observed in the first period. In contrast, growth of residual white spruce was greater in the second five-year period than in the first period. After the original harvest, re-entry of stands for additional harvest focused mainly on hardwoods may be economically rewarding and ecologically justified, depending on the overall objectives for retention. The positive effect of increased retention level on tree survival was strongest for trees with larger diameter and longer crowns. Thus, retention patches are a management option to protect large trees and trees with greater crown length when retaining such trees is a management goal.
Xing, D., S. E. Nielsen, S. E. Macdonald, J. R. Spence, and F. He. 2018. Survival and growth of residual trees in a variable retention harvest experiment in a boreal mixedwood forest. Forest Ecology and Management 411:187-194.