Managing forests infested by spruce beetles in south-central Alaska: effects on nitrogen availability, understory biomass, and spruce regeneration

Published by Ecoss on

In Alaska, an outbreak of spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis) recently infested over one million hectares of spruce (Picea spp.) forest. As a result, land management agencies have applied different treatments to infested forests to minimize fire hazard and economic loss and facilitate forest regeneration. In this study we investigated the effects of high-intensity burning, whole-tree harvest, whole-tree harvest with nitrogen (N) fertilization, and conventional harvest of beetle-killed stands 4 years after treatment, as well as clear-cut salvage harvest 6 years after treatment. We measured available soil ammonium and nitrate and estimated N loss from leaching using in situ cation and anion resin exchange capsules. We also assessed spruce regeneration and responses of understory plant species. Availability and losses of N did not differ among any of the management treatments. Even a substantial application of N fertilizer had no effect on N availability. Spruce regeneration significantly increased after high-intensity prescribed burning, with the number of seedlings averaging 8.9 m−2 in burn plots, as compared to 0.1 m−2 in plots that did not receive treatment. Biomass of the pervasive grass bluejoint (Calamagrostis canadensis) was significantly reduced by burning, with burn plots having 9.5% of the C. canadensis biomass of plots that did not receive treatment. N fertilization doubled C. canadensis biomass, suggesting that N fertilization without accompanying measures to control C. canadensis is the least viable method for promoting rapid spruce regeneration.