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Etiology of a recent white spruce decline: role of potassium deficiency, past disturbances, and climate change

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Along with climate, multiple global or large-scale change agents shape forest ecosystem health. We present a case study where we attempted to elucidate the driving factors causing decline symptoms in white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) in young spruce–fir boreal stands. Tree defoliation rate in the studied areas was related to the foliage discoloration intensity of the 2-year old needles and the decreasing stem basal area increment from 1997 to 2008. The onset of this growth decline in 1997 coincided with the occurrence of extremes for four climatic indices. The foliage of affected trees was deficient in K. The relationship between tree decline and K deficiency was tested through a diagnostic fertilization trial using a two-level factorial combination of N, K, and Mg. The trial indicated that K was the single limiting nutrient among the three tested elements. A single K addition increased stem basal area by 43% on average after 11 years. It is hypothesized that the poor K status of trees can be attributed to a series of natural and anthropogenic disturbances along with past forest management activities. Climate change in the region since the last decades also may have contributed to exacerbate K deficiency in such forest ecosystems.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Direction de la recherche forestière, Forêt Québec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles, 2700 rue Einstein, Québec, QC G1P 3W8, Canada. 2: 5175 Chemin Laliberté, Sherbrooke, QC J1R 0C2, Canada.

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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