, Volume 17, Issue 10, pp 2339-2355
Date: 16 Apr 2008

Slow understory redevelopment after clearcutting in high mountain forests

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Abstract

Besides natural tree regeneration itself, the development of the forest understory community is highly indicative of the ecological recovery of forest stands post-harvesting, and therefore of the sustainability of forest management. High mountain forests might show particularly slow recovery of the understory plant community because of harsh environmental conditions. We compared understory community richness and composition among three age classes of forest stands in the subalpine Engelmann Spruce–Subalpine Fir zone in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. Species composition was found to differ significantly between mature stands (>110 years old and never harvested) and both recent clearcuts (5–8 years old) and the oldest clearcuts present in the study area (second growth: 24–28 years old). A non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) ordination revealed no unidirectional return of species composition in harvested stands towards that of mature forest; indeed, plots in recent clearcuts and second growth stands were similar to one another and clearly separated from the mature stands. Indicator Species Analysis revealed that moss species were particularly indicative of mature forest, with four moss species being common in mature stands but absent from both younger stages. Compared to what has been reported for lower elevation coniferous forests, e.g. in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, redevelopment of the understory appears to be slow after harvesting in these high elevation mountain forests. Rotation intervals that consider the natural temporal pattern of species turnover and the occurrence interval of major natural disturbances (here: fire) should provide effective approaches to sustainable forest management of these forests.