Silviculture Treatments Hasten Seedling Growth on Seismic Disturbances in Boreal Treed Fens

Colette Shellian
Julia Linke
Gregory McDermid
Michael Cody
Scott Nielsen
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Seismic lines in western Canada's boreal region are linear disturbances that affect the habitat of threatened woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). To hasten the return of forest cover and ultimately to restore caribou habitat, restoration managers use silviculture treatments in wet areas that involve the mechanical mounding of seismic lines to create artificial hummocks. Tree planting then takes place on top of these hummocks. However, the effectiveness of this silviculture technique for restoring seismic lines in peatlands is largely untested. Here we sampled incremental height growth of coniferous seedlings at 41 seismic line plots in poor and rich treed fens in northeast Alberta, Canada. We compared lines that had been treated with inverted mounding (a type of mechanical mounding) and subsequent tree planting, to nearby lines that were left untreated for natural recovery. We used generalized linear mixed models to test the effect of silviculture treatments on 5-year growth increments of black spruce (Picea mariana) and tamarack (Larix laricina). Overall, we found that mounding and tree planting improved seedling growth compared to seismic lines regenerating naturally. However, growth responses were found to vary by species, ecosite, initial seedling size, and light availability. This suggests that site-specific prioritization of mounding within peatlands may be more efficient considering the widespread nature of seismic lines. Future experiments testing growth responses to other mounding techniques that are designed to preserve the soil profile. It is also important for managers to weigh restoration goals beyond tree establishment and an accelerated return to forest cover.