Dynamic old-growth forests? A case study of boreal black spruce forest bryophytes
Old-growth forests have sparked significant interest over the last twenty years and definitions have evolved from structure based to process based, acknowledging the diversity of forests that could be considered old growth. However studies frequently group all forests over a certain age into a single type, negating the dynamic processes that create old growth. In this study we examine a 2350-year chronosequence in boreal black spruce forests in northwestern Quebec to determine whether continued community change can be observed in the bryophyte layer. Bryophytes dominate the understory of boreal forests and influence ecosystem functioning, particularly in paludified forests where production exceeds decomposition in the organic layer. Community composition and richness changed throughout the chronosequence with no evidence of a steady state associated with an old-growth phase. In contrast the bryophyte community continued to evolve with multiple phases being evident. These results suggest that old-growth forests on the Clay Belt of northwestern Quebec and northeastern Ontario, Canada, should be regarded as part of the continuous gradient in forest development rather than a single state. This complicates conservation of these forests as multiple phases should be considered when planning forest reserves.
Received 26 October 2010 Accepted 28 October 2011 Published 31 December 2011