Fire and forest recovery on seismic lines in sandy upland jack pine (Pinus banksiana) forests
Publication date: 1 August 2018
Source:Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 421
Author(s): Angelo T. Filicetti, Scott E. Nielsen
Networks of narrow linear (∼3–12 m wide) forest disturbances used for petroleum exploration (seismic lines) are common throughout Alberta’s boreal forest. These ‘seismic’ lines have often failed to recover trees decades after their initial disturbance, especially within treed peatland and jack pine (Pinus banksiana) forests. This has led to regional increases in forest fragmentation contributing to declines in threatened woodland caribou. Restoration of seismic lines to forests is now a top priority for conservation and recovery of woodland caribou, but are expensive and often ignore the occurrence of wildfires that may destroy restoration investments (planted trees), yet also recruit trees. This is especially relevant to jack pine forests that burn more frequently than other forests and depend on moderate to high intensity fires to release seeds en masse from their serotinous cones. Although much is known about jack pine tree recruitment following fire, little is known about patterns of tree recovery on seismic lines and how this varies with fire severity, line width (forest gap size), and line orientation. Here we examine natural tree recovery across a gradient in fire severity (defined as percent overstory tree mortality) with different seismic line characteristics (forest gap width and orientation), as compared to adjacent forest stands, in jack pine forests 5-years post-fire in northeast Alberta, Canada. Overall, jack pine regeneration was consistently 2-fold higher on seismic lines compared to adjacent burned forests with stem density increasing with fire severity in both sites, especially when fire severity was greater than 40%. We suggest that the observed increases in tree regeneration on seismic lines may be due to (1) removal of biomass and exposure of mineral soils on seismic lines creating more favorable conditions for jack pine seeds and seedlings; and/or (2) increases in available light resulting in better growing conditions and survival for this shade-intolerant species. Finally, we suggest that natural recovery (passive restoration) of seismic lines should be expected post-fire in jack pine stands and thus active restoration of these sites through silviculture and tree planting may not be the wisest use of limited restoration dollars if fires are locally common.
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