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The effects of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on the structure and composition of early-successional plant communities in the Interior Cedar-Hemlock (ICH) zone of southern British Columbia Corriveau, Brit Madelaine

Abstract

Wildfire is the primary natural disturbance in Interior Cedar-Hemlock (ICH) forests, and since the mid-20th century, forest harvesting (clearcutting, in this case) has become the primary anthropogenic disturbance type. Forest management in British Columbia is currently governed by a paradigm that maintains that biological diversity can be preserved by utilizing forest harvesting regimes that closely mimic "natural" disturbance regimes, but a question remains as to how closely these regimes mimic wildfire disturbances. More specifically, how do clearcutting and wildfires compare in their effects on the structure and composition of early-successional ICH plant communities? This study compares vegetation structure, composition, relative abundance and diversity among 39 sites that experienced either a stand-replacing fire or a clearcut within the last 40 years. Sites of different ages and disturbance types were located within the wet cool ICHwkl and very-wet cool ICHvk I biogeoclimatic variants near Revelstoke, B.C. For each site, overstory structural characteristics (tree and snag diameters, basal area and density), overstory composition, and surface fuels (volume of coarse woody debris (CWD)) were assessed. Understory vegetation percent cover, species richness, composition and diversity were also determined. Linear regression analysis was used to examine differences in each of these variables between disturbance types, over time. The trends in structural legacies (especially snag and CWD dynamics) varied greatly between wildfire and clearcut sites. Compared to burned sites, clearcut sites exhibited patterns of accelerated succession in several characteristics (overstory tree regeneration, vegetation cover and understory species richness) due to planting treatments and pre-disturbance relicts. Understory species composition also varied between disturbances, with clearcut sites containing more shade-tolerant survivors initially. Both disturbance types had similar levels of floristic diversity during early succession. These results suggest that clearcut harvesting may not emulate stand-replacing fires in terms of impact on early ICH plant succession in any aspect but diversity. However, it is unclear if these early-successional differences will continue through time. There is a need for further research in this ecosystem, as well as any other ecosystems where emulation silviculture is applied, in order to confirm that silvicultural effects mimic those of natural disturbance regimes.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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