In boreal mixedwood stands dominated by trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria, FTC) outbreaks are recurrent events whose effects on stand dynamics are poorly documented. To describe and characterize the effects of FTC outbreaks, we assessed canopy opening, gap size, and understory tree recruitment in 12 stands dominated by trembling aspen that had experienced different levels of defoliation (in terms of severity and duration) during the last outbreak in northwestern Quebec (1999–2002). The study showed a significant increase in canopy opening and gap size with defoliation intensity. Furthermore, the proportion of large gaps and aspen mortality increased with defoliation intensity. Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) regeneration benefited from changes in canopy structure caused by the FTC, while aspen did not. Forest succession in mixedwood stands that had been defoliated for 1 y was not profoundly affected, while multiple years of defoliation likely caused more rapid canopy transition from aspen to fir. By creating a variety of gaps, FTC outbreaks modify stand structure in ways that differ from succession to coniferous dominance controlled by single-stem exclusion.
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Vol. 20 • No. 2