Afforestation opportunities when stand productivity is driven by a high risk of natural disturbance: a review of the open lichen woodland in the eastern boreal forest of Canada

Abstract

Afforestation has the potential to offset the increased emission of atmospheric carbon dioxide and has therefore been proposed as a strategy to mitigate climate change. Here we review the opportunities for carbon (C) offsets through open lichen woodland afforestation in the boreal forest of eastern Canada as a case study, while considering the reversal risks (low productivity, fires, insect outbreaks, changes in land use and the effects of future climate on growth potential as well as on the disturbances regime). Our results suggest that : (1) relatively low growth rate may act as a limiting factor in afforestation projects in which the time available to increase C is driven by natural disturbances; (2) with ongoing climate change, a global increase in natural disturbance rates, mainly fire and spruce budworm outbreaks, may offset any increases in net primary production at the landscape level; (3) the reduction of the albedo versus increase in biomass may negatively affect the net climate forcing; (4) the impermanence of C stock linked to the reversal risks makes this scenario not necessarily cost attractive. More research, notably on the link between fire risk and site productivity, is needed before afforestation can be incorporated into forest management planning to assist climate change mitigation efforts. Therefore, we suggest that conceivable mitigation strategies in the boreal forest will likely have to be directed activities that can reduce emissions and can increase C sinks while minimizing the reversal impacts. Implementation of policies to reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in the boreal forest should consider the biophysical interactions, the different spatial and temporal scales of their benefits, the costs (investment and benefits) and how all these factors are influenced by the site history.

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Acknowledgements

This research was made possible thanks to the financial and logistical support provided by the Université du Québec à Montréal and the Canadian Forest Service. We acknowledge the contribution of Pamela Cheers who carefully edited the text. We thank the Centre for Forest Research for their logistical support. We also thank Pierre Bernier and Jerôme Laganière for their helpful suggestions and revision of a previous version of the manuscript.

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Mansuy, N., Gauthier, S. & Bergeron, Y. Afforestation opportunities when stand productivity is driven by a high risk of natural disturbance: a review of the open lichen woodland in the eastern boreal forest of Canada. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 18, 245–264 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-012-9362-x

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Keywords

  • Albedo
  • Black spruce
  • C balance
  • Fire frequency
  • Insect outbreak
  • Land use change
  • Reversal risks