Current issue: 53(4)
Fire as disturbance of forests has an important ecological and economical role in boreal and hemiboreal forests. The occurrence of forest fires is both climatically and anthropogenically determined and shifts in fire regimes are expected due to climate change. Although fire histories have been well documented in boreal regions, there is still insufficient information about fire occurrence in the Baltic States. In this study, spatio-temporal patterns and climatic drivers of forest fires were assessed by means of spatial and time-series analysis. The efficiency of Canadian Fire Weather (FWI) indices as indicators for fire activity was tested. The study was based on data from the literature, archives, and the Latvian State Forest service database. During the period 1922–2014, the occurrence and area affected by forest fires has decreased although the total area of forest land has nearly doubled, suggesting improvement of the fire suppression system as well as changes in socioeconomic situation. The geographical distribution of forest fires revealed two pronounced clusters near the largest cities of Riga and Daugavpils, suggesting dominance of human causes of ignitions. The occurrence of fires was mainly influenced by drought. FWI appeared to be efficient in predicting the fire occurrence: 23–34% of fires occurred on days with a high or extremely high fire danger class, which overall had a relative occurrence of only 4.3–4.6%. During the 20th century, the peak of fire activity shifted from May to April, probably due to global warming and socioeconomic reasons. The results of this study are relevant for forest hazard mitigation and development of fire activity prediction system in Latvia.
Fast-growing hybrids of Populus L. have an increasing importance as a source of renewable energy and as industrial wood. Nevertheless, the long-term sensitivity of Populus hybrids to weather conditions and hence to possible climatic hazards in Northern Europe have been insufficiently studied, likely due to the limited age of the trees (short rotation). In this study, the climatic sensitivity of ca. 65-year-old hybrid poplars (Populus balsamifera L. × P. laurifolia Ledeb.), growing at two sites in the western part of Latvia, and ca. 55-year-old hybrid aspens (Populus tremuloides Michx. × P. tremula L.), growing in the eastern part of Latvia, have been studied using classical dendrochronological techniques. The high-frequency variation of tree-ring width (TRW) of hybrid poplar from both sites was similar, but it differed from hybrid aspen due to the diverse parental species and geographic location of the stands. Nevertheless, some common tendencies in TRW were observed for both hybrids. Climatic factors influencing TRW were generally similar for both hybrids, but their composition differed. The strength of climate-TRW relationships was similar, but the hybrid poplar was affected by a higher number of climatic factors. Hybrid poplar was sensitive to factors related to water deficit in late summer in the previous and current years. Hybrid aspen was sensitive to conditions in the year of formation of tree-ring. Both hybrids also displayed a reaction to temperature during the dormant period. The observed climate-growth relationships suggest that increasing temperatures might burden the radial growth of the studied hybrids of Populus.
The effect of climatic factors on wood anatomy of the alien red oak (Quercus rubra L.) growing in three experimental plantations in Latvia was assessed by classical dendrochronological techniques. Two tree-ring proxies – tree-ring width (TRW) and mean area of earlywood vessel lumen (VLA) – were studied on 33 trees. Annual variation of TRW amongst trees was similar (mean r = 0.46), but there was more individuality in VLA (mean r = 0.26); nevertheless, chronologies of both proxies had rather synchronous variation amongst the sites. Annual variation of TRW was affected by factors related to water deficit in late summer, as suggested by the negative effect of temperature and positive effect of precipitation that have intensified during the 20th century, likely due to warming. Although weather conditions during the dormant period did not directly affect TRW, temperature during the autumn-spring period has been the main climatic determinant of VLA likely via influence on overwintering and hence vigour of tree. This suggests that conductive properties of wood and hence the susceptibility to water deficit have been affected by weather conditions before the formation of tree rings. During the 20th century, sensitivity of VLA has shifted from temperature in winter to temperature in autumn likely due to climate change. Still, the positive effect of these factors suggests that warming of climate would increase VLA and hence the risk of embolism and xylem disfunction. Therefore, the importance of availability of water for growth of red oak in Latvia is increasing.
Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia Engelm.) has been extensively introduced in Scandinavia on less productive sites. Under a changing climate, it also has a high potential in the eastern Baltic region; still, its performance there has scarcely been reported. This study investigated the performance of 36 Canadian provenances in 14 trials in western Latvia. Tree dimensions showed notable provenance and provenance-by-environment variation, implying that local selection by provenance can be applied for improved yield. Southern provenances showed the best height growth, while southwestern (more oceanic) provenances excelled in diameter growth. Most of the quality traits were affected by provenance or provenance-by-environment interaction, yet the variation was lower than for the growth traits.
In managed European hemiboreal forests, windstorms have a notable ecological and socio-economic impact. In this study, stand properties affecting windstorm damage occurrence at the stand-level were assessed using a Generalized Linear Mixed model. After 2005 windstorm, 5959 stands dominated by birch (Betula spp.), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.), with mean height > 10 m were inventoried. Windstorm damage was positively associated with spruce and pine-dominated stands, increasing mean height, fresh forest edges, decreasing time since the last thinning and stronger wind gusts. Tree species composition – mixed or monodominant – was not statistically significant in the model; while, the admixture of spruce in the canopy layer was positively associated with higher windstorm damage. Stands on peat soils were more damaged than stands on mineral soils. Birch stands were more damaged than pine stands. This information could be used in forest management planning, selection of silvicultural treatments to increase forest resilience to natural disturbances.
Dwarf shrub layer is an important component of boreal and hemiboreal forest ecosystems that has received little attention, particularly regarding its structural diversity, which, however, could serve as an additional proxy for habitat quality. Dimensions of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) ramets were assessed in two sites in Latvia covered by dry oligotrophic Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) stands 10–230 years of age. In total, 20 sampling plots (10×10 m) with 156 subplots (1×1 m) were sampled and 630 bilberry ramets analysed. The dimensions of ramets (age, diameter, and height) and cover of bilberry increased with stand age. The age of the studied ramets ranged 2–13 years; 5–6 years-old ramets were most frequent in all stands. The skewness of the distribution of the ramet dimensions shifted with stand age, leaning towards the higher values. Lower structural diversity of ramets was observed in stands 50–100 years of age. The highest diversity of ramet age structure occurred in stands younger than 150 years, whereas the oldest and largest ramets mostly occurred in the older stands (>150 years). Considering structural diversity of ramets, recovery of bilberry after stand-replacing disturbance (e.g. clearcut) was a continuous process, similarly to that observed in tree layer.
The height growth of trees influences the productivity of stands and the competitiveness of species, shaping the range of their distribution. Dominant height growth was assessed for European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.), growing outside of its natural distribution range in the western part of Latvia. In 10 neighbouring experimental stands, 20 dominant trees were felled for stem analysis. Height growth was modelled using the generalised algebraic difference approach, applying several non-linear equations and mixed procedures. The Chapman-Richards and Sloboda models showed the best fit to the data. Height growth of the second generation (younger) trees exceeded that of the first generation, and followed curve for a higher site index, suggesting sufficient adaptation and improving conditions. Height growth of the studied beech exceeded predictions for beech in southern Sweden, which is considered to be the northern limit of the species range, yet the growth pattern differed. In Latvia, slower height growth was estimated for site indices < 32 m (in 100 years) during the first 60 years, yet larger maximal height was predicted, suggesting a longer establishment period. Nevertheless, the improving height growth indicated increasing potential for the application of the species in commercial forestry, and an expansion of the species within the region even during the 21th century.
Forest fire is one of the natural disturbances, which have important ecological and socioeconomical effect. Although fire activity is driven by weather conditions, during past two centuries forest fires have been strongly anthropogenically controlled. In this study, teleconnection between sea surface temperature (SST) in the Atlantic, which influences climate in Europe, and forest fire activity in Latvia and Estonia was assessed using “Climate explorer” web-tool. Factors affecting number and area of forest fires in Latvia and Estonia differed, suggesting regional specifics. In Estonia, the number of fires correlated with the SST in the North Atlantic in spring and summer, which affects the inflow of cool and dry air masses from the Arctic, hence the aridity and burnability. The area of fires in Estonia and in Latvia was associated with increased SST in Baltic Sea and near the European coast in summer, which likely were consequences of occurrence of warm high-pressure systems in summer, causing hot and dry conditions. Nevertheless, the observed teleconnections could be used to predict activity of forest fires in Latvia and Estonia.
Long-term (47 years) effect of experimental whole tree harvesting (WTH) with a heavy soil scarification on ground cover vegetation was assessed in a dry nutrient-poor Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) stand in Latvia. Neighbouring conventionally managed young (10 years) and mature (119 years) stands of the same type were used for comparison. Higher species richness was observed in the WTH stand compared to conventionally managed young and mature stands (24, 18 and 16 species, respectively), likely due to the profound disturbance. The Shannon diversity index was higher in the young than in the WTH and mature stands (2.36, 1.77 and 1.63, respectively); still, the composition and structure of ground cover vegetation in WTH was more similar to the mature stand. Nevertheless, the occurrence of oligotrophic species in the WTH stand suggested decreased soil nutrient content and potential development of different plant community. Hence, such method might be considered for restoration of oligotrophic stands. Nevertheless, the period of 47 years appeared sufficient for the ground cover vegetation to recover after the WTH.
The projections of vegetation zones suggest increasing growth potential of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) in Northern Europe. Such changes usually are most apparent in the marginal populations. In this study, survival of young beech growing in an experimental plantation under canopy of a mixed coniferous stand in the central part of Latvia was assessed after 33 years since the establishment. The planting material originated from an older experimental stand in the western part of Latvia. Although, at present, the studied plantation could be considered as the northeasternmost beech stand in Europe, a good survival was observed – ca. 80% of the seedlings have survived, despite several cold spells of ca. –30 °C that occurred during the recent three decades. Additionally, some self-regeneration i.e. branch sprouting was observed. The saplings were rather low, as their mean height was ca. 4 m. Still, some individuals, which were growing under canopy openings, reached considerable dimensions; their height and stem diameter exceeded 10 m and 9 cm, respectively. The distribution of sapling dimensions had the reverse-J shape that is typical for shade tolerant species, indicating normal development of the beech regrowth. The crowns of saplings were narrow and the stems were spindly, suggesting that trees with a good stem quality might be bred. Hence, our results suggest that environmental conditions in the central part of Latvia have been satisfactory for beech, thus encouraging establishment of more extensive trials within the region.
Initial fertilisation, when the fertilizer is supplied during the plantation, is applied to improve the competitive ability of the seedlings and hence to increase their growth and productivity; however, fertilization could also alter wood properties and timber quality. In this study, the dimensions and tree-ring parameters – width, proportion of latewood, maximum and mean density, mean earlywood and latewood density – of initially fertilized (by 14, 6 and 11 g of N, P and K per seedling, respectively) Norway spruce (Picea abies Karst.) growing in an experimental plantation in Kalsnava, Latvia (temperate climate region) were assessed. The fertilization significantly increased the dimensions of trees in long-term (ca. 17% increase of stemwood volume). The analysis of tree-ring width suggested that the duration of the effect was ca. 15 years. The maximum and latewood density were higher for the fertilized trees only in a few years. The mean and earlywood density of tree-rings were mainly similar for both treatments. Altogether, considering the one-time application of a limited amount of fertilizer, such treatment had notable and lasting effect on Norway spruce.