We characterized the abundance, size and spatial patterning of canopy gaps, as well as gap-forming processes and light availability in boreal, sub-boreal, northern temperate and subalpine old-growth forests of northwestern British Columbia. The proportion of area in canopy gaps ranged from 32% in northern temperate forests to 73% in subalpine forests. Evenly distributed developmental gaps were dominant but permanent openings created by edaphic components and by shrub communities were also common, particularly in sub-boreal forests. Abundant gaps, large gap sizes, high numbers of gap makers per gap and frequent gap expansion events suggest that gaps have long tenure in these forests. Snapped stems and standing dead mortality were the most common modes of mortality in all forest types resulting in little forest floor disturbance, creating few germination sites for seedling establishment. We found high mean light levels (16–27% full sun) and little difference between non-gap and gap light environments. Our results suggest that gap dynamics in these forests differ fundamentally from those in temperate and tropical forest ecosystems.
Nomenclature: Hitchcock & Cronquist (1994).