Tree Regeneration on Industrial Linear Disturbances in Treed Peatlands is Hastened by Wildfire and Delayed by Loss of Microtopography

Angelo Filicetti
Scott Nielsen
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The world’s forests are highly fragmented by linear disturbances, and many forests have failed to recover decades after abandonment. Lack of recovery is common in unproductive forests, such as treed peatlands, because of conditions that limit tree growth, including simplification of microtopography (loss of microsites). The persistence of these features affects biodiversity, but of particular concern in Canada is the detrimental effects on threatened woodland caribou. Although natural regeneration of trees in peatlands occurs in some places, it is not an effective recovery strategy for restoring the habitat of woodland caribou. This has led to restoration activities with costs exceeding CAD$12 500/km. However, current restoration does not consider wildfires, which can destroy planted trees but also initiate early seral conditions that favor natural regeneration. Here we compared tree regeneration on seismic lines and adjacent forest controls for burnt (75 sites) and unburnt (68 sites) treed peatlands in northeast Alberta, Canada. Tree regeneration (stems with a DBH < 1 cm/ha) varied from 28 500 in burnt lines, 11 440 in unburnt lines, and 18 210 in burnt forest, to 9520 in unburnt forest. Wildfires promoted denser regeneration in sites with a greater proportion of serotinous species and water table depth. Microtopography and terrain wetness explained regeneration on burnt lines, but not unburnt lines. In burnt and unburnt lines, sunlight, microtopography, and depth of water table most affected tree regeneration patterns.