Early Regeneration Dynamics of Pure Black Spruce and Aspen Forests after Wildfire in Boreal Alberta, Canada

Stephanie Jean
Brad Pinno
Scott Nielsen
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Research Highlights: Black spruce (Picea mariana Mill.) and trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) both regenerated vigorously after wildfire. However, pure semi-upland black spruce stands are at increasing risk of changing successional trajectories, due to greater aspen recruitment. Background and Objectives: Black spruce and aspen are found across the boreal forest with black spruce dominating lowlands and aspen being common in uplands. Both species are well adapted to wildfire with black spruce holding an aerial seedbank while aspen reproduce rapidly via root suckering. In the summer of 2016, the Horse River wildfire burned 589,617 hectares of northern Alberta’s boreal forest. Methods: We assessed early regeneration dynamics of both pure aspen and pure black spruce forests. For black spruce, 12 plots were established in both bog and semi-upland habitats to assess seedling regeneration and seedbed availability. For aspen, 12 plots were established in each of the low, moderate, and high burn severities, as well as 5 unburned plots. Results: Post-fire black spruce regeneration densities did not differ between bog and semi-upland habitats but were positively correlated with forb cover and charred organic matter seedbeds. Aspen regeneration within pure black sprue stands was substantial, particularly in semi-upland habitats, indicating a potential shift in successional trajectory. Fire severity did not significantly affect aspen regeneration in pure aspen stands, but regeneration density in all severity types was >90,000 stems ha-1. Aspen regeneration densities were negatively related to post-fire forb and shrub cover, likely due to competition and cooler soil temperature.