Skip to main content
Log in

Morphological response of conifer advance growth to canopy opening in mixedwood stands, in Quebec, Canada

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Trees Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Key message

After release, balsam fir has greater ability than red spruce to rapidly capture available light and growing space in a wide range of canopy opening.


A large proportion of yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.)—conifer stands feature abundant advance growth of shade-tolerant balsam fir (Abies balsamea [L.] Mill.) and red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.), on which ecosystem-based regeneration strategies should capitalize. However, the morphological response of advanced regeneration to higher light levels following harvesting has yet to be described. Preferential carbon allocation to apical vs. lateral meristems has a significant implication on post-cut forest dynamics. We assessed the morphological response of balsam fir and red spruce saplings (1.3–4.0 m in height) to different levels of canopy opening (removal of 0, 40, 50, 60 and 100 % of the basal area) in two sites located in the Québec City region, Canada. Five years after cutting, the height growth (HG), lateral shoot growth (LG) and HG/LG ratio of the two conifer species were highest in the 100 % cut, intermediate in the three partial cuts, and lowest in the control. However, balsam fir had a 40 % higher HG and a 60 % higher LG, resulting in an HG/LG ratio 30 % lower than red spruce. At that time, both species increased their LG in the upper part of the crown in cutting treatments, although this shift was less pronounced for spruce in partial cuts. The number of internodal branches increased following canopy opening, while the number of branches per whorl was less impacted. Relationships between light availability and morphological variables were strong (pseudo-R 2 = 0.54–0.71) and comparable between the two conifer species. However, balsam fir had higher HG and LG, and produced more internodal branches at all light levels. Fir even responded to higher light levels (60–70 % of full light) than spruce (<60 %). Therefore, results from this study clearly demonstrate that balsam fir has greater ability than red spruce to capture available light and growing space in the short term and in a wide range of canopy opening.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Beaudet M, Messier C, Leduc A (2004) Understorey light profiles in temperate deciduous forests: recovery process following selection cutting. J Ecol 92:328–338

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blum BM (1990) Red spruce—Picea rubens Sarg. In: Burns RM, Honkala BH (eds) Silvics of North America, vol 1, Conifers. Agriculture Handbook 654. USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC, pp 250–259

  • Boyce RL (1993) A comparison of red spruce and balsam fir shoot structures. Tree Physiol 12:217–230

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Canham CD (1989) Different responses to gaps among shade-tolerant tree species. Ecol 70:548–550

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carter RE, Klinka K (1992) Variation in shade tolerance of Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar in coastal British Columbia. For Ecol Manage 55:87–105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carter RE, Miller IM, Klinka K (1986) Relationships between growth form and stand density in immature Douglas-fir. For Chron 62:440–445

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chen HYH, Klinka K, Kayahara GJ (1996) Effects of light on growth, crown architecture, and specific leaf area for naturally established Pinus contorta var. latifolia and Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca saplings. Can J For Res 26:1149–1157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Claveau Y, Messier C, Comeau PG, Coates KD (2002) Growth and crown morphological responses of boreal conifer seedlings and saplings with contrasting shade tolerance to a gradient of light and height. Can J For Res 32:458–468

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Claveau Y, Comeau PG, Messier C, Kelly CP (2006) Early above- and below-ground responses of subboreal conifer seedlings to various levels of deciduous canopy removal. Can J For Res 36:1891–1899

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coates KD, Burton PJ (1999) Growth of planted tree seedlings in response to ambient light levels in northwestern interior cedar-hemlock forests of British Columbia. Can J For Res 29:1374–1382

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Colombo SJ, Templeton CWG (2006) Bud and crown architecture of white spruce and black spruce. Trees 20:633–644

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davis CD (1989) The role of released advance growth in the development of spruce-fir stands in eastern Maine. Ph.D. Diss., Yale Univ., New Haven, CT, p 104

  • Dumais D, Prévost M (2008) Ecophysiology and growth of advance red spruce and balsam fir regeneration after partial cutting in yellow birch—conifer stands. Tree Physiol 28:1221–1229

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Dumais D, Prévost M (2015) Acclimatation de la basse régénération résineuse à la suite de coupes partielles en forêt mixte tempérée: Développement après 15 ans. Note de recherche forestière no 141. Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, Dir Rech For, p 10

  • Evans JR, Poorter H (2001) Photosynthetic acclimation of plants to growth irradiance: the relative importance of specific leaf area and nitrogen partitioning in maximizing carbon gain. Plant Cell Environ 24:755–767

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Fahey TD, Cahill JM, Snellgrove TA, Heath LS (1991) Lumber and veneer recovery from intensively managed young-growth Douglas-fir. Research paper PNW-RP-437. USDA, Forest service, Pacific northwest research station, Portland, OR, p 25

  • Frank RM (1990) Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. (balsam fir). In: Burns RM, Honkala BH (eds) Silvics of North America, vol 1, Conifers. Agriculture Handbook No. 654. USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC, pp 26–35

  • Gholz HL, Ewel KC, Teskey RO (1990) Water and forest productivity. For Ecol Manage 30:1–18

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Givnish TJ (1988) Adaptation to sun and shade: a whole plant perspective. Aust J Plant Physiol 15:63–92

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Haapanen M, Velling P, Annala M-L (1997) Progeny trial estimates of genetic parameters for growth and quality traits in Scots pine. Silva Fenn 31:3–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jordan DN, Smith WK (1993) Simulated influence of leaf geometry on sunlight interception and photosynthesis in conifer needles. Tree Physiol 13:29–39

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • King DA (1997) Branch growth and biomass allocation in Abies amabilis saplings in contrasting light environments. Tree Physiol 17:251–258

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kneeshaw D, Bergeron Y, De Grandpré L (1998) Early response of Abies balsamea seedlings to artificially created openings. J Veg Sci 9:543–550

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maguire DA, Moeur M, Bennett WS (1994) Models for describing basal diameter and vertical distribution of primary branches in young Douglas-fir. For Ecol Manage 63:23–55

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mäkinen H, Colin F (1999) Predicting the number, death, and self-pruning of branches in Scots pine. Can J For Res 29:1225–1236

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meredieu C, Colin F, Hervé J-C (1998) Modelling branchiness of Corsican pine (Pinus nigra Arnold ssp. Laricio (Poiret) Maire) with mixed-effect models. Ann Sci For 55:359–374

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Messier C, Parent S, Bergeron Y (1998) Effects of overstory and understory vegetation on the understory light environment in mixed boreal forests. J Veg Sci 9:511–520

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Messier C, Doucet R, Ruel J-C, Claveau Y, Kelly C, Lechowicz MJ (1999) Functional ecology of advance regeneration in relation to light in boreal forests. Can J For Res 29:812–823

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ministère du développement durable, de l’environnement et de la lutte contre les changements climatiques (MDDELCC) (2015) Normales climatiques du Québec 1981–2010. Stations Honfleur, Sainte-Christine, and Rivière-Verte-Ouest. Accessed 12 Jun 2015

  • Moores AR, Seymour RS, Kenefic LS (2007) Height development of shade-tolerant conifer saplings in multiaged Acadian forests stands. Can J For Res 37:2715–2723

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mori A, Takeda H (2003) Architecture and neighbourhood competition of understory saplings in a subalpine forest in central Japan. Écoscience 10:217–224

    Google Scholar 

  • Mori A, Takeda H (2004) Functional relationships between crown morphology and within-crown characteristics of understory saplings of three codominant conifers in a subalpine forest in central Japan. Tree Physiol 24:661–670

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Parent S, Messier C (1995) Effets d’un gradient de lumière sur la croissance en hauteur et la morphologie de la cime du sapin baumier régénéré naturellement. Can J For Res 25:878–885

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pothier D, Doucet R, Boily J (1995) The effect of advance regeneration height on future yield of black spruce. Can J For Res 25:536–544

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prévost M (2008) Effect of cutting intensity on microenvironmental conditions and regeneration dynamics in yellow birch—conifer stands. Can J For Res 38:317–330

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prévost M, DeBlois J (2014) Shelterwood cutting to release coniferous advance growth and limit aspen sucker development in a boreal mixedwood stand. For Ecol Manage 323:148–157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Robitaille A, Saucier JP (1998) Paysages régionaux du Québec méridional. Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec, Direction de la gestion des stocks forestiers et Direction des relations publiques, Québec, QC

  • Saucier JP, Grondin P, Robitaille A, Gosselin J, Morneau C, Richard PJH, Brisson J, Sirois L, Leduc A, Morin H, Thiffault É, Gauthier S, Lavoie C, Payette S (2009) Écologie forestière. In: Ordre des ingénieurs forestiers du Québec (ed), Manuel de foresterie, 2e éd. Ouvrage collectif, Éditions Multimondes, Québec, QC, pp 165–315

  • Takahashi K (1996) Plastic response of crown architecture to crowding in understorey trees of two co-dominating conifers. Ann Bot 77:159–164

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Westfall PH, Tobias RD, Wolfinger RD (1999) Multiple comparisons and multiple tests using the SAS System. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC

    Google Scholar 

  • Wright EF, Coates KD, Canham CD, Bartemucci P (1998) Species variability in growth response to light across climatic regions in northwestern British Columbia. Can J For Res 28:871–886

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors wish to acknowledge Nelson Thiffault for commenting an earlier version of this manuscript and Aimée LeBreton for her English language editing assistance. Special thanks go to Jean-Pierre Lapointe, Maurice Gagnon, Julie Forgues, Carlo Gros-Louis, Daniel Guimond, Serge Williams, Éric Saulnier, Pascal Lainé, Étienne Du Berger and many summer students for their help during field measurements. Two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor are also acknowledged for their helpful comments. This study is part of Project 142332016 of the Direction de la recherche forestière, Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marcel Prévost.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Communicated by J. Major.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Prévost, M., Dumais, D. & DeBlois, J. Morphological response of conifer advance growth to canopy opening in mixedwood stands, in Quebec, Canada. Trees 30, 1735–1747 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: