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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Long-term stand dynamics in high-elevation Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir forests Jull, Michael James


For the high-elevation Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir (ESSF) biogeoclimatic zone of southwestern British Columbia, there is little empirical data on the long-term dynamics of subalpine spruce-fir stands. A lack of a long-term perspective on the growth and development of stands in the ESSF zone hinders both ecological research and silvicultural planning in the ESSF forest. A broadly-focussed pilot study on long-term Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir stand dynamics in the ESSF zone was designed to begin to address this deficiency. This study used two methodological approaches to gain insights into long-term stand dynamics: 1) a retrospective approach to examine historical patterns of: i) postfire conifer regeneration, ii) post-establishment stand structure development, and; iii) basal area production and accumulation in ESSF spruce-fir forests, and; 2) A chronosequence approach to examine overall stand basal area development over a 575-year chronosequence, which is not amenable to detailed retrospective examination. In order to reconstruct the patterns of postfire regeneration and subsequent stand development, measurements of tree age, diameter, radial increment, and height were collected in 8 mesic, 45- to 110-year-old fire-origin stands of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry. ex Engel.) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa (Hook.) Nutt.) in the ESSFwm and ESSFdc2 biogeoclimatic subzones of the North Cascades mountains. The results of the stand reconstruction were also used to aid in the interpretation of the chronosequence, which was based on basal area and age data from both the retrospective study sites, and the published literature. Based on the graphical analysis and discussion of the data collected in this pilot study, the following features of long-term stand development were noted in subalpine Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir stands: 1) Postfire conifer re-establishment on these burned ESSF sites was slow and erratic; the re-establishment period was 30 to 50 or more years in duration; 2) There appeared to be no consistent or predictable postfire patterns of conifer establishment on the various sites, either over time, or on a site-to site basis; 3) During postfire regeneration and immature stand development, there appeared to be no consistent differences between Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir, either in terms of i) postfire regeneration establishment, or ii) height development; 4) Fire-origin spruce-fir stands in the ESSF zone rapidly develop a complex stand structure, possibly due to the gradual and prolonged patterns of regeneration ingress on these sites; 5) Trees which have initial advantages in height or other competitive advantages over other trees on the site during the establishment phase tend to retain dominant crown positions in the stand at much later stages of development; 6) The relationship of periodic basal area increment (b.a.i.) to initial basal area stocking in immature spruce-fir stands suggests that stand increment is optimized above a critical stand density; 7) The initial basal area level necessary to optimize b.a.i. appears to increase with stand age; and 8) Apparent trends from a 575-year chronosequence of Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir stand development suggests that stand basal area tends to peak, on average, between the ages of 70 and 150 years of age. Subsequently, basal area tends to gradually decline and eventually stabilize between the ages of 300 to 400 years of age. Based on these results, preliminary recommendations were proposed for the long-term silvicultural management of ESSF spruce-fir forest types. Also, the research priorities necessary for building on the results of this pilot study were identified.

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