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Early performance of planted hybrid larch: effects of mechanical site preparation and planting depth

Abstract

Some site preparation is generally recommended to enhance the growth and survival of planted and naturally regenerated seedlings, but it must be justified both economically and environmentally. More severe preparation is thought to be necessary for intensive plantation silviculture, e.g., using fast-growing, ameliorated stocks, especially in boreal ecosystems. Although not justified scientifically, deep-planting of seedlings is often discouraged and may even be financially penalized in eastern Canada. We thus evaluated early seedling growth and survival of hybrid larch (Larix × marschlinsii Coaz) in an experiment including mechanical site preparation and planting depth treatments. Our results suggest that satisfactory early hybrid larch establishment and growth could be met using low environmental impact or low cost treatments (such as soil inversion using an excavator or single-pass disk trenching), and that deeper planting has no negative effect. Structural equation modelling (SEM) was used to explore causal relationships between factors influencing seedling performance at the local scale (planting microsites), including soil moisture, soil temperature, surrounding vegetation, and seedling nutrition. SEM analysis supported the absence of overall differences among treatments, while also highlighting the negative impact of increased soil water content where drainage was suboptimal, as well as the unexpected positive impact of increased competition on growth mostly through seedling nutrition, among others. These early observations will need to be confirmed over a longer period, as well as with a more comprehensive assessment of site environmental conditions and competition intensity.

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Acknowledgments

We thank P. Gaucher, C. Jenkins, M. Hänsel, É. Rousselle, T. André, Y. Gauthier, J. Carignan, S. Lemay, D. Létourneau and E. Gaillard for their technical support, D. Lesieur for his help in database management, I. Auger for her constructive advice regarding the statistical analyses, as well as M. Girard and many others at Resolute Forest Products (Mauricie, QC). Larch hybrids used in this study are the result of continuous selection efforts from the Québec provincial nurseries. We are indebted to D. Craven, D. Kneeshaw, B. Harvey, two anonymous reviewers and the Associate Editor who provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, as well as W.F.J. Parsons (CEF) for language revision. This study is part of the TRIAD initiative, with the collaboration of the Direction de la recherche forestière of the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec (project 142332106), MITACS, and Resolute Forest Products.

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Correspondence to Alain Paquette.

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Buitrago, M., Paquette, A., Thiffault, N. et al. Early performance of planted hybrid larch: effects of mechanical site preparation and planting depth. New Forests 46, 319–337 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11056-014-9463-3

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Keywords

  • Structural equation modelling (SEM)
  • Planting microsite
  • Hybrid larch
  • Mechanical site preparation
  • Forest functional zoning (TRIAD)
  • Intensive silviculture
  • Planting depth