International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Large fires as agents of ecological diversity in the North American boreal forest

Philip J. Burton A E , Marc-André Parisien B C , Jeffrey A. Hicke D , Ronald J. Hall C and Jason T. Freeburn C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Canadian Forest Service and University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC, V2N 4Z9, Canada.

B Department of Environmental Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

C Canadian Forest Service, 5320–122nd St, Edmonton, AB, T6H 3S5, Canada.

D Department of Geography, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, USA.

E Corresponding author. Email: pburton@pfc.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca

International Journal of Wildland Fire 17(6) 754-767 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF07149
Submitted: 15 October 2007  Accepted: 22 October 2008   Published: 12 December 2008

Abstract

The present study undertook a hierarchical analysis of the variability within and among some individual fire events in the boreal ecozones of Canada and Alaska. When stratified by ecozone, differences in the spatial and temporal distribution of wildfires were observed in the Canadian Large Fire Data Base that reflect climatic, terrain and land-use differences across the country. Remote-sensing data collected before and after boreal forest fires permitted a rigorous analysis of the variability in burn severity within individual fire events, and the identification of certain fire-prone and more fire-resistant land-cover types. The occurrence of fire skips or islands was related to the distribution of those cover types, resulting in proportionally more unburned area within the perimeter of a burn for larger fires. Differences in burn severity led to differences in post-burn vegetation response of tree, shrub and moss layers that can persist for decades or even centuries. As a result, there can be considerable variability in the survival, density and distribution of residual biota and organic materials. This variability creates a range of post-fire vegetation patterns and contributes much to the habitat diversity of boreal landscapes.


Acknowledgements

P. J. Burton and M.-A. Parisien contributed equally to this paper. We thank Richard Williams and Ross Bradstock for inviting the current presentation at the Third International Congress of Forest Fire Science and Ecology. We appreciate the contributions of Alain Leduc and Yves Bergeron (Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Université du Québec à Montréal), Mike Flannigan and Sylvie Gauthier (Canadian Forest Service/Service canadien des forêts) to the oral presentation on which the present paper is based. Financial support for the burn severity assessment over selected fires within the Canadian boreal was provided by the Canadian Space Agency Government Related Initiatives Program (GRIP) program to foster the increased use of earth observation data within federal government departments. Thanks to everyone who compiled and lent us data, or assisted in secondary analysis of primary sources, including John Little and Morgan Cranny (Canadian Forest Service) and Robert Landry (Earth Sciences Sector, Natural Resources Canada). Constructive comments by Brad Hawkes, Steve Glover, two anonymous reviewers and the associate editors have strengthened the paper, for which we are grateful.


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