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Multiple successional pathways of boreal forest stands in central Canada


  • Anthony R. Taylor,

  • Han Y. H. Chen

A. R. Taylor and H. Y. H. Chen (, Fac. of Forestry and the Forest Environment, Lakehead Univ., 955 Oliver Rd, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada P7B 5E1.


Predicting forest composition change through time is a key challenge in forest management. While multiple successional pathways are theorized for boreal forests, empirical evidence is lacking, largely because succession has been inferred from chronosequence and dendrochronological methods. We tested the hypotheses that stands of compositionally similar overstory may follow multiple successional pathways depending on time since last stand-replacing fire (TSF), edaphic conditions, and presence of intermediate disturbances. We used repeated measurements from combining sequential aerial photography and ground surveys for 361 boreal stands in central Canada. Stands were measured in 8–15 yr intervals over a ~ 60 yr period, covering a wide range of initial stand conditions. Multinomial logistic regression was used to analyze stand type transitions. With increasing TSF, stands dominated by shade-intolerant Pinus banksiana, Populus sp., and Betula papyrifera demonstrated multiple pathways to stands dominated by shade-tolerant Picea sp., Abies balsamea, and Thuja occidentalis. Their pathways seemed largely explained by neighborhood effects. Succession of stands dominated by shade-tolerant species, with an exception of stands dominated by Picea sp., was not related to TSF, but rather dependent on edaphic conditions and presence of intermediate disturbances. Varying edaphic conditions caused divergent pathways with resource limited sites being dominated by nutrient-poor tolerant species, and richer sites permitting invasion of early successional species and promoting species mixtures during succession. Intermediate disturbances promoted deciduous persistence and species diversity in A. balsamea and mixed-conifer stands, but no evidence was detected to support “disturbance accelerated succession”. Our results demonstrate that in the prolonged absence of stand-replacing disturbance boreal forest stands undergo multiple succession pathways. These pathways are regulated by neighborhood effects, resource availability, and presence of intermediate disturbance, but the relative importance of these regulators depends on initial stand type. The observed divergence of successional pathways supports the resource-ratio hypothesis of plant succession.

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