Cut vs. fire: a comparative study of the temporal effects of timber harvest and wildfire on ecological indicators of the boreal forest

Best I.N., Brown L., Elkin C., Finnegan L., McClelland C.J.R. & Johnson C.J.
Landscape Ecology
39: 81 [22 p.]
Context: Large-scale natural disturbances are crucial drivers of ecosystem function and composition for many forested ecosystems. In the last century, the prevalence of anthropogenic disturbances has increased across Canada’s boreal forest. Habitat disturbance from timber harvest and wildfire is linked to declines of boreal species, including woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). Objectives: We tested how disturbances influenced the recovery trajectory of ecological indicators of timber, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat through time following timber harvest and wildfire across the boreal forest of Alberta, Canada. Methods: During 2021 and 2022, we collected field data from 251 timber harvested and 264 burned stands (0–40 years since disturbance), as well as 256 older forest stands used by caribou (> 40 years since disturbance). Field data included metrics of stand attributes (e.g., basal area, stems per hectare), coarse woody debris (CWD), and abundance of forage for caribou, moose (Alces americanus), and bears (black bear: Ursus americanus, grizzly bear: Ursus arctos). Results: Basal area of trees and stems per hectare recovered more quickly in timber harvest sites when compared to wildfire sites, but as time since disturbance increased there were no differences in these attributes among timber harvest, wildfire, and caribou use sites. CWD was greatest in recently burned sites, but declined over time to be similar in quantity as in harvested stands and older forest stands. Terrestrial lichens, important forage for caribou, were most abundant in the older caribou use sites, whereas forage for moose and bears, including shrubs, was most abundant in younger timber harvest and wildfire sites. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that timber harvesting may result in a quicker development of timber volume when compared to wildfire. However, this anthropogenic disturbance is less advantageous for the development of caribou habitat.
Tuesday, 02 April 2024 18:05