Singular and interactive effects of blowdown, salvage logging, and wildfire in sub-boreal pine systems
The role of disturbance in structuring vegetation is widely recognized; however, we are only beginning to understand the effects of multiple interacting disturbances on ecosystem recovery and development. Of particular interest is the impact of post-disturbance management interventions, particularly in light of the global controversy surrounding the effects of salvage logging on forest ecosystem recovery. Studies of salvage logging impacts have focused on the effects of post-disturbance salvage logging within the context of a single natural disturbance event. There have been no formal evaluations of how these effects may differ when followed in short sequence by a second, high severity natural disturbance. To evaluate the impact of this management practice within the context of multiple disturbances, we examined the structural and woody plant community responses of sub-boreal Pinus banksiana systems to a rapid sequence of disturbances. Specifically, we compared responses to Blowdown (B), Fire (F), Blowdown-Fire, and Blowdown-Salvage-Fire (BSF) and compared these to undisturbed control (C) stands. Comparisons between BF and BSF indicated that the primary effect of salvage logging was a decrease in the abundance of structural legacies, such as downed woody debris and snags. Both of these compound disturbance sequences (BF and BSF), resulted in similar woody plant communities, largely dominated by Populus tremuloides; however, there was greater homogeneity in community composition in salvage logged areas. Areas experiencing solely fire (F stands) were dominated by P. banksiana regeneration, and blowdown areas (B stands) were largely characterized by regeneration from shade tolerant conifer species. Our results suggest that salvage logging impacts on woody plant communities are diminished when followed by a second high severity disturbance; however, impacts on structural legacies persist. Provisions for the retention of snags, downed logs, and surviving trees as part of salvage logging operations will minimize these structural impacts and may allow for greater ecosystem recovery following these disturbance combinations.