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

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.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Peter Quinby, Peter Beckett, Veronica Chillo, OMNR, OMNDM, David Sone and the Wolf Lake Coalition for helpful commentary on the current situation of Wolf Lake. We thank the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for funding (Discovery grant to M.A.) our research at this site. We thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. I.D. thanks FUQAT Foundation for financial support.

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Correspondence to Madhur Anand.

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Anand, M., Leithead, M., Silva, L.C.R. et al. The scientific value of the largest remaining old-growth red pine forests in North America. Biodivers Conserv 22, 1847–1861 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-013-0497-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-013-0497-1

Keywords

  • Landscape ecology
  • Mining exploration
  • Natural resource policy
  • Ecological services
  • Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest
  • Forest biodiversity