, Volume 22, Issue 8, pp 1847-1861
Date: 25 Jun 2013

The scientific value of the largest remaining old-growth red pine forests in North America

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Abstract

Old growth red pine forests (Pinus resinosa) cover less than 1% of their original range in North America and are essential for maintaining biodiversity at stand and landscape scales. Despite this, the largest remaining old-growth red pine forest in the world, the Wolf Lake Forest Reserve, is currently threatened by mining claims in Northern Ontario and has been receiving considerable media and public attention in recent months. We provide a timely review of how large old growth red pine forests maintain biodiversity at several taxonomic levels (with a focus on trees and plants) through heterogeneous partitioning of limiting resources such as light and nitrogen, formation of complex habitats through increased accumulation of coarse woody debris, and the maintenance of natural disturbance-driven succession. These processes shape the overstory community, allowing for the regeneration of pines, coexistence of early-mid successional shade intolerant species and cross-ecotonal establishment of late successional tree species in response to regional warming over the past three decades. Using Wolf Lake as a case study, we review legislation and policy complexities around this issue and provide scientific arguments for the preservation of this forest. We invoke recent insights into the ecological role of refugia, the development of criteria for assessing endangered ecosystems, and the challenges of conservation in the face of climate change and disturbance regimes. These forests are ecologically important and provide a scientifically irreplaceable system for assessing baseline ecosystem function, processes and services. As the largest remaining old-growth red pine forest in the world, Wolf Lake Forest Reserve deserves intensive study, monitoring and full protection from future development.