Question: Does the increase in Populus tremuloides cover within the Picea mariana–feathermoss domain enhance establishment and growth conditions for Abies balsamea regeneration?
Location: Boreal forest of northwest Quebec, Canada.
Method: To document the effect of Populus tremuloides on A. balsamea regeneration, mixed stands with a heterogeneous presence of P. tremuloides adjacent to Picea mariana-dominated stands were selected. Abies balsamea regeneration, understorey environment and canopy composition were characterized from 531 sampling units distributed along transects covering the mixed–coniferous gradient. Abundance of understorey A. balsamea regeneration was described using three height groups: seedling (<30 cm), small sapling (30 to <100 cm) and tall sapling (100 to 300 cm). Growth characteristics were measured from 251 selected individuals of A. balsamea (<3 m).
Results: Results showed that A. balsamea regeneration was generally more abundant when P. tremuloides was present in the canopy. Differences between seedling and sapling abundance along the mixed–coniferous gradient suggest that while establishment probably occurs over a wide range of substrates, the better growth conditions found under mixed stands ensure a higher survival rate for A. balsamea seedlings.
Conclusions: The abundant A. balsamea regeneration observed within mixed stands of the Picea mariana–feathermoss domain suggests that the increase in P. tremuloides cover, favoured by intensive management practices and climatic change, could contribute to acceleration of the northward expansion of the A. balsamea–Betula papyrifera domain into the northern boreal forest dominated by Picea mariana.