Forest Regeneration under Scotch Broom Control, Phase I Progress. Technical Report submitted to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and The Nature Conservancy.
Sustainable forestry has been practiced for over a hundred years on the 16,000 ha of commercial forest lands on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In the latter half of the 20thcentury, the invasive shrub Scotch broom spread across the base, creating new challenges for reforestation efforts. Large areas of forest were essentially taken over by Scotch broom after trees were harvested. Plantations have shown repeated failures, resulting in serious financial losses as well as a negative effect on military training. The primary objective of our project was to examine the impact of Scotch broom on establishment and growth of Douglas fir seedlings, and the effectiveness of different approaches to Scotch broom control in the forestry context. Here we report results from a number of related studies on  Douglas fir survival in previously invaded clearcuts,  Edge effects on Douglas fir survival,  Stimulating germination with disturbance,  Increase in Scotch broom cover after initial removal, Variation across seasons in the effectiveness of Garlon 4 (triclopyr) herbicide, and Legacy effects: Scotch broom effects on soil.
1. Douglas fir survival in previously invaded clearcuts. We set up a large-scale experiment (6.3ha total treatment area) with 12 treatments at 5 sites. We planted 7,448 two-year-old Douglas fir seedlings in March 2008 and censused 3,800 focal trees. In response to very high mortality, we replanted all focal trees in November 2008 or in March 2009. By September 2009, over 90% of these tree seedlings had died. This was the first documented evidence that direct competition from Scotch broom was not involved in Douglas fir plantation failure. Rather, soil or other abiotic conditions in the invaded clearcuts made these sites inhospitable to Douglas fir regeneration. We found no significant difference in survival between trees planted in November and trees planted in March.
2. Edge effects on Douglas fir survival. In a smaller study of 424 tree seedlings planted at different distances from two forest edges, we found a significant effect of distance from the nearest adult tree, and no difference between a north-facing and a south-facing edge, on survival through the first year. In another related study in March 2009, we planted Douglas fir seedlings along the edges of the same clearcuts described above, and we found higher survival along those edges than in the center of the clearcuts.
3. Stimulating germination with disturbance. Soil scarification is thought to stimulate germination of Scotch broom seeds out of the seedbank, relative to germination from seeds below established vegetation.We tested whether this effect of scarification is due to the physical disturbance of the soil or simply due to the removal of shade and competing vegetation. We compared Scotch broom germination from (1) control plots that had two-year-old undisturbed vegetation including Scotch broom, (2) plots scarified the previous year, and (3) plots treated with triclopyr the previous year. We found that both treatments had significantly more germination relative to the control, showing that part of the response to scarification is simply the removal of competition from established vegetation. In addition, scarified plots had significantly higher germination than herbicide plots, confirming that soil disruption had an additional stimulating effect on Scotch broom germination.
4. Increase in Scotch broom cover after initial removal.We tracked the rate of increase in percent cover of the invader Scotch broom over time in five sites. Patterns of Scotch broom cover after two years closely tracked patterns of seedling density in the first year rather than patterns of stump resprouting. However, after three years, the rank order of Scotch broom cover began to diverge from the initial germination data.
5. Variation across seasons in the effectiveness of Garlon 4 (triclopyr) herbicide. Restoration experts differ in their opinions about when is the best time to treat Scotch broom, often advocating for the importance of targeting the peak flowering season, or the dry season when the plant is most stressed. We quantified the effectiveness of chemical control in different seasons, spraying whole plots (56’ x 56’) with Garlon 4 Ultra (triclopyr) in March, May, or September of 2009, and measuring percent cover of Scotch broom in 2010. For this short-term response, all the spray treatments had strong effects relative to controls, and the effect of treatment seasonality was very small by comparison.
6. Legacy effects: Scotch broom effects on soil. Scotch broom is a nitrogen-fixing plant and therefore may ‘fertilize’ soils with increased N. At the same time, however, the plant produces N-rich defense compounds (alkaloids) that have been shown elsewhere to inhibit the growth and activity of some plants and microbes. Both of these effects may affect Douglas fir growth not only directly, but also indirectly via mycorrhizal associations, which may themselves be altered by changes in soil chemistry. We did a 19-month greenhouse experiment comparing invaded and uninvaded soils, with amendments of Scotch broom “mulch” (plant material added) and activated carbon (to bind allelochemicals). Both Douglas fir growth and mycorrhizal colonization were suppressed in invaded soils. Adding Scotch broom mulch to uninvaded soils increased Douglas fir growth, suggesting a nitrogen fertilization effect, but only in the presence of activated carbon.