Is salvage logging effectively dampening bark beetle outbreaks and preserving forest carbon stocks?
Salvage logging is one of most frequently applied management responses to forest disturbances world-wide. As forest disturbances are increasing, so too is the application of salvage logging, yet its effects on ecosystems remains incompletely understood. In the Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) forests of Europe, salvaging of windfelled trees is inter alia applied to reduce the risk of bark beetle outbreaks (mainly Ips typographus L.). By preventing further disturbances, salvage logging can conserve live tree carbon (C) in forest landscapes. At the same time salvage logging reduces C stocks in detrital pools via the extraction of disturbed trees, its net effect thus remains unclear. We used the forest landscape model iLand to explore the effect of a wide range of salvaging intensities on (a) subsequent bark beetle outbreaks, and (b) landscape-scale forest C stocks in a Norway spruce-dominated production forest in Slovakia under past and future climatic conditions. Climate change resulted in a two- to three-fold increase in bark beetle disturbances throughout the 21st century in our simulations. We found that removing >95% of disturbed trees can effectively buffer the effect of increasing disturbances, dampening bark beetle infestations and increasing live tree C. Total ecosystem C followed a U-shaped pattern over salvaging intensity, with highest values in no salvage and 100% salvage scenarios. However, realistic rates of salvaging (<95% of disturbed trees detected and removed) had no significant effect on bark beetle dynamics and live tree C, and reduced the total ecosystem C stored in the landscape. Furthermore, the effect of reduced bark beetle disturbance under intensive salvaging was partly offset by increased wind disturbance. Synthesis and applications. Clearing disturbed areas to prevent future disturbances from bark beetles and conserve live tree carbon should only be applied where very high salvaging rates are feasible (i.e. small and concentrated disturbances). Considering that changing disturbance regimes make high-intensity salvaging increasingly challenging, alternative disturbance management approaches need to be developed.