Low productivity caused by paludification in some parts of the closed black spruce (Picea mariana
(Mill.) B.S.P) dominated boreal forest threatens the provision of ecosystem services, including wood fiber production. The accumulation, over time, of organic matter in paludified soils leads to an anaerobic environment that reduces microbial activity, decelerates decomposition of organic matter, and generates nutrient-poor microsites for regeneration. Consequently, it results in significant impacts on site productivity. Considering its ability to disturb the soil, mechanical site preparation (MSP) is viewed as a potential treatment that can help restore productivity of paludified sites following harvesting. We conducted a field experiment to verify if (1) the availability of microsites conducive to reforestation varies with MSP, microtopography (slope and aspect) and initial OLT conditions; (2) the growth of planted seedlings depends on the intensity of mechanical disturbance of the organic layer, type of microsite, planting density, presence of Ericaceae, and the planting position and depth; (3) there are direct and indirect causal relationships between microsites availability after MSP, OLT, microtopography, planting quality and seedlings growth; and (4) if mechanical site preparation and microsite type exposed affect the Ericaceae cover after planting. Our results confirmed that MSP is effective in establishing conditions that permit a productive regeneration cohort on these paludified sites. To ensure successful establishment of plantations on these sites, it is necessary, however, to distinguish between those that are slightly or moderately paludified from those that are highly paludified, as treatment effectiveness of different MSP types depends on organic layer thickness. Our results also show that preference should be given to some microsite types as clay and mixed-substrate microsites for planting to ensure sufficient availability of water and nutrients for seedlings.
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