By Julia R. Chandler, Sybille Haeussler, Evelyn H. Hamilton, Michael Feller, Gary Bradfield, Suzanne W. Simard
Forests are being clearcut over extensive areas of western North America, but plant community response to harvesting and slashburning under varying climatic conditions in central British Columbia, Canada is still largely unknown. Evaluation of resilience is hampered by the short history of logging, lack of long-term experiments and methodological limitations. To test the effect of clearcut logging, prescribed burning and reforestation on forest resilience, we recorded vascular plant cover repeatedly after treatment between 1981 and 2008 in 16 permanent research installations in three biogeoclimatic zones: Engelmann Spruce- Subalpine Fir, Interior Cedar-Hemlock and Sub-Boreal Spruce. We created a plant-trait dataset for the 181 recorded species to define plant functional types representing groups of plants that behave in similar ways and/or produce similar ecological outcomes. These plant functional types, along with taxonomic analysis of diagnostic and indicator species, were then used to evaluate plant community response to disturbance. Twenty years post-treatment, species diversity increased in all zones and plant abundance was greatest in the Interior Cedar-Hemlock. Cover of understory plant functional types associated with mature conifer forests increased in all zones, constituting a significant proportion (> 40%) of the vegetation community by year 20. Response patterns varied by zone and with time. Understory species diagnostic of mature forests were present in all zones by year 20, but we identified indicator species sensitive to slashburning or requiring more time for recovery, including white-flowered rhododendron (Rhododendron albiflorum) and devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus). Overall, loss of compositional or functional diversity following harvest and site remediation was not detected, suggesting that montane and subalpine forests in British Columbia are resilient to this treatment. However, because these forests can be slow to recover from disturbance, the post-disturbance assessment window of this study may not have been long enough to detect diminishment of ecosystem resilience.