Understory vascular plant responses to retention harvesting with and without prescribed fire

TitleUnderstory vascular plant responses to retention harvesting with and without prescribed fire
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsFranklin, CMA
Secondary AuthorsNielsen, S
Tertiary AuthorsMacdonald, SE
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Keywordsprescribed burning, technical reports and journal articles

Wildfire is the predominant natural disturbance in the boreal forests of western Canada. Natural disturbance-based forest management involves the use of retention harvesting to retain stand structural diversity post-harvest; however, this partial harvesting technique does not cause combustion of the forest floor as does fire. Application of prescribed burning to areas treated with retention harvesting might emulate the influence of wildfires more effectively than harvesting alone. We compared understory vascular plant diversity, abundance, and composition between forest stands subjected to dispersed retention harvesting (10% retention) with and without prescribed burning one year, six years, and 11-12 years post-burn. Untreated forest was included as a reference. Research was conducted in conifer-dominated, mixedwood, and deciduous-dominated boreal forest stands in northwestern Alberta, Canada. In deciduous-dominated stands, burned areas of retention harvested stands had higher species richness and greater cover than did unburned areas. In all three forest cover types, effects of harvest with and without burn on species richness, cover, and composition were still evident a decade after disturbance. Fire-adapted species benefited most from the prescribed burn treatment. The combination of prescribed burning with retention harvesting can be considered a useful option in forest management that aims to emulate natural disturbance.