, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 540–550 | Cite as

Shift of Conifer Boreal Forest to Lichen–Heath Parkland Caused by Successive Stand Disturbances

  • Serge Payette
  • Ann Delwaide
Original Article


In the southern boreal forest (Québec, Canada), tree harvesting is a major disturbance affecting the dominant black spruce (Picea mariana) stands already suffering from naturally recurrent insect and fire disturbances. Although recovery of the spruce forest after an insect infestation or a fire is possible under current site conditions, it is less likely when both types of disturbance occur during a short period of time. The addition of yet another disturbance, such as tree harvesting, can thus have catastrophic consequences. We analyzed the impact of three successive disturbances—tree harvesting, insect infestation, and fire—on the regeneration of boreal spruce–moss forests within a period of approximately 50 years. The spruce forests were harvested in the 1940s and the 1950s. Recovery from the logging consisted of advance regeneration (spruce layers less than 1 m high that were left intact during clear-cuts), which was burned in 1991. The vegetation cover (mostly heath and lichen species) and soil conditions (acidic, nutrient-poor podzolic soils developed from coarse materials) of the postfire sites that we studied were similar. Stand structure and tree regeneration were documented from large quadrats (0.25 ha) using age, size, and tree ring data from postlogged and postfire spruce. At an early stage of development, the growing advance regeneration was damaged by insect defoliators in the late 1970s and the mid-1980s, and several trees died a few years before the 1991 fire. The successive disturbances considerably reduced the number of seed-bearers, leading to the collapse of postfire regeneration and a shift to parkland. Through a successional trajectory far from the expected trend for boreal forests influenced by single disturbance, the shift resulted in the formation of divergent plant communities. The development of divergent communities at the landscape scale is generally overlooked due to their small size. They indicate, however, the weak resilience of boreal forests faced with cascading perturbations, which are likely to increase in intensively logged areas.


stand disturbances insect infestation fire tree harvesting clear-cutting black spruce boreal forest seedling establishment 



This work received financial support from the Ministère des Ressources Naturelles of Québec (Direction de la Recherche Forestière) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The field and laboratory assistance of Véronique Tremblay and Manuel Lafortune are greatly appreciated. We thank Ed Johnson and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre d’Études Nordiques and Département de BiologieUniversité Laval, Sainte-Foy, QuébecCanada G1K 7P4

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