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Forests 2013, 4(3), 613-631; doi:10.3390/f4030613
Review

Managing Understory Vegetation for Maintaining Productivity in Black Spruce Forests: A Synthesis within a Multi-Scale Research Model

1,2,3,* , 2
, 3
, 1
, 4,5
, 2
, 5
, 2
, 1
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 and 7
1 Direction de la recherche forestière, Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec, 2700 rue Einstein, Québec, G1P 3W8, Canada 2 Institut de recherche sur les forêts, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 445 boul. de l'Université, Rouyn-Noranda, J9X 5E4, Canada 3 Centre d'étude de la forêt, Faculté de foresterie, de géographie et de géomatique, Université Laval, 2405 rue de la Terrasse, Québec, G1V 0A6, Canada 4 Centre d'applications et de recherches en télédétection, Université de Sherbrooke, 2500 boul. de l'Université, J1K 2R1, Canada 5 Centre d'étude de la forêt, Université de Sherbrooke, 2500 boul. de l'Université, J1K 2R1, Canada 6 Canadian Forest Service, Laurentian Forestry Centre, 1055 rue du PEPS, Québec, G1V 4C7, Canada 7 Centre d'enseignement et de recherche en foresterie (CERFO), 2424 chemin Ste-Foy, Québec, G1V 1T2, Canada
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 14 June 2013 / Revised: 11 July 2013 / Accepted: 12 July 2013 / Published: 23 July 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forest Restoration and Regeneration)
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Abstract

Sustainable management of boreal ecosystems involves the establishment of vigorous tree regeneration after harvest. However, two groups of understory plants influence regeneration success in eastern boreal Canada. Ericaceous shrubs are recognized to rapidly dominate susceptible boreal sites after harvest. Such dominance reduces recruitment and causes stagnant conifer growth, lasting decades on some sites. Additionally, peat accumulation due to Sphagnum growth after harvest forces the roots of regenerating conifers out of the relatively nutrient rich and warm mineral soil into the relatively nutrient poor and cool organic layer, with drastic effects on growth. Shifts from once productive black spruce forests to ericaceous heaths or paludified forests affect forest productivity and biodiversity. Under natural disturbance dynamics, fires severe enough to substantially reduce the organic layer thickness and affect ground cover species are required to establish a productive regeneration layer on such sites. We succinctly review how understory vegetation influences black spruce ecosystem dynamics in eastern boreal Canada, and present a multi-scale research model to understand, limit the loss and restore productive and diverse ecosystems in this region. Our model integrates knowledge of plant-level mechanisms in the development of silvicultural tools to sustain productivity. Fundamental knowledge is integrated at stand, landscape, regional and provincial levels to understand the distribution and dynamics of ericaceous shrubs and paludification processes and to support tactical and strategic forest management. The model can be adapted and applied to other natural resource management problems, in other biomes.
Keywords: Kalmia angustifolia; Rhododendron groenlandicum; Sphagnum; silviculture; mechanical site preparation; tactical and strategic forest management Kalmia angustifolia; Rhododendron groenlandicum; Sphagnum; silviculture; mechanical site preparation; tactical and strategic forest management
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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MDPI and ACS Style

Thiffault, N.; Fenton, N.J.; Munson, A.D.; Hébert, F.; Fournier, R.A.; Valeria, O.; Bradley, R.L.; Bergeron, Y.; Grondin, P.; Paré, D.; Joanisse, G. Managing Understory Vegetation for Maintaining Productivity in Black Spruce Forests: A Synthesis within a Multi-Scale Research Model. Forests 2013, 4, 613-631.

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