Lilles, E. B., Purdy, B. G., Macdonald, S. E. and Chang, S. X. 2012. Growth of aspen and white spruce on naturally saline sites in northern Alberta: Implications for development of boreal forest vegetation on reclaimed saline soils. Can. J. Soil Sci. 92: 213-227. We examined height and basal area growth over time for trembling aspen and white spruce in plots along a salinity gradient at six naturally saline sites in northern Alberta, as a benchmark for forest productivity on reclaimed saline sites. We measured root distributions and analyzed foliage for ions, nutrients and carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios. Both species grew on soil conditions previously considered unsuitable for forest vegetation [pH>8.5; electrical conductivity>10 dS m-1, sodium adsorption ratio>13 at depth (50-100 cm)] yet there was little evidence of nutritional toxicities or deficiencies. Aspen basal area growth decreased 50% as salinity increased, but aspen was commercially productive (site index=22) on soils with electrical conductivity of 7.8 dS m-1 at 50-100 cm depth. Growth of white spruce seemed to be unaffected by salinity level differences, but 78% of white spruce site indexes were less than 13 and would be considered non-productive. Both species showed growth declines over time, compared with non-saline reference growth curves, and rooted primarily in the forest floor and top 20 cm of soil. This suggests that rooting limitations may constrain longer-term productivity of forests established on sites with salinity at depth.
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