Effects of 80 years of forest management on landscape structure and pattern in the eastern Canadian boreal forest

Abstract

Context

Forest management alters patterns generated by natural disturbances, particularly in ecosystems with infrequent fires. Management effects can differ according to spatial scale and affect ecological processes.

Objectives

To assess the effect of 80 years of forest management at both the landscape and burn/harvest scales on forest age, composition, density, spatial pattern and heterogeneity.

Methods

Forest inventory maps and satellite images were used to compare two contiguous landscapes, respectively managed and unmanaged, of the eastern boreal forest of Canada, in a region with infrequent fires. Burns and harvests occurring from 1920–1950 were also compared.

Results

In addition to reducing the proportion of old-growth stands in the landscape, forest management changed forest composition at both scales, favouring the late-successional species balsam fir. Landscape metrics indicated that old-growth forests and spruce-dominated ones were more fragmented, less connected, and confined to smaller patches in the managed landscape than in the unmanaged one. Forest management increased heterogeneity at the landscape scale, but decreased it at the burn/harvest scale. Logging had a homogenizing effect at the burn/harvest scale by attenuating the effect of the physical environment on forest density.

Conclusions

This study provides knowledge to help reduce effects of forest management at both scales. In this forest region with low fire recurrence, the goal should be to manage for greater forest heterogeneity at the burn/harvest scale whereas, at the landscape scale, restoration strategies should aim to create large contiguous patches of coniferous forests to increase spatial continuity as these were reduced by past management activities.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the Fonds de recherche Nature et technologies du QuébecProgramme de recherche en partenariat sur l’aménagement et l’environnement forestier. We thank Martin Simard and two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on the manuscript, Isabelle Lamarre for English editing.

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Correspondence to Dominique Boucher.

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Boucher, D., De Grandpré, L., Kneeshaw, D. et al. Effects of 80 years of forest management on landscape structure and pattern in the eastern Canadian boreal forest. Landscape Ecol 30, 1913–1929 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-015-0220-6

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Keywords

  • Logging
  • Fires
  • Multi-scale
  • Heterogeneity
  • Forest composition
  • Old-growth forests