Research Article: The spread of Kalmia angustifolia on black spruce forest cutovers contributes to the spatial heterogeneity of soil resources

Date Published: June 21, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Gilles D. Joanisse, Robert L. Bradley, Caroline M. Preston, Dusan Gomory.


Kalmia angustifolia is a boreal ericaceous shrub that can rapidly spread on black spruce forest cutovers in eastern Canada, where CPRS (i.e. Cutting with Protection of Regeneration and Soils”) is practiced. The proliferation of Kalmia often coincides with a reduction in the growth rate of regenerating black spruce seedlings. We report on a study where we compared the local effects of Kalmia and black spruce seedling patches (i.e. two types of “Vegetation”) on chemical and biochemical soil properties in CPRS cutovers within mesic spruce-moss and xeric spruce-lichen ecosystems, as well as in four mature spruce-moss forests (i.e. three “Site Types”). Results from 13C-CPMAS-NMR revealed lower O-alkyl C (i.e. carbohydrates), higher aromatic C (i.e. lignin and other phenolics) and higher carbonyl-C (i.e. amide-C and carboxyl groups) in spruce-moss than in spruce-lichen forest floors (F-horizon). In spite of these distinctions, we observed only a small number of Site Type x Vegetation interactions controlling soil properties. Vegetation had a significant effect on ten forest floor properties. Most notably, Kalmia patches had higher concentrations of condensed tannins and lower mineral N cycling. On the other hand, Site Type had a relatively greater effect on the deeper podzolic-B horizons, where mineral N and microbial activity were higher in mature spruce-moss forests than in the cutovers. Green and senescent Kalmia leaves collected at these sites had higher N, tannin and phenolic concentrations than green and senescent spruce needles. A 25 month litter bag study found lower decomposition of Kalmia leaf litter in spruce patches on spruce-lichen cutovers compared to spruce patches on spruce-moss cutovers, or to Kalmia patches on spruce-lichen cutovers. Given that black spruce seedlings obtain most of their nutrients from the forest floor, our results suggest that CPRS may have long-term negative effects on black spruce forest productivity if the spread of Kalmia is left unchecked.

Partial Text

Black spruce (Picea mariana (B.S.P.) Mill.) is the most common boreal tree species and a major resource for the pulp and paper industry in Quebec, Canada. This slow-growing shade-tolerant species dominates two common ecosystem types. The spruce-moss type consists of closed-canopy black spruce stands that develop on moist soils (i.e. mesic) with a feather moss (Pleurozium schreberi (Brid.) Mitt) mat and an organic forest floor typically >10 cm thick. By contrast, the spruce-lichen type consists of open-canopy black spruce woodlands that develop on well-drained soils (i.e. xeric) with a ground cover of fruticose lichens (e.g. Cladina spp. and Cladonia spp.) and organic forest floors that are typically 5–7 cm thick. In both of these ecosystem types, CPRS (i.e. Cut with Protection of Regeneration and Soils) has been the principal method of timber extraction for the past 30 years. CPRS (i.e. “careful logging”) removes merchantable black spruce stems while leaving the understory (including advance regeneration of black spruce) and soils intact over 75% of the cutover area [1]. Some have argued in favor of CPRS [2], while others have criticized this practice in its intended purpose of maintaining ecological integrity and site productivity, namely by promoting the proliferation of ericaceous shrubs [3]. It is thus important to understand and compare soil properties and nutrient cycling in spruce-moss and spruce-lichen CPRS cutovers.




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