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

Soil organic layer combustion in boreal black spruce and jack pine stands of the Northwest Territories, Canada

Xanthe J. Walker A G , Jennifer L. Baltzer B , Steven G. Cumming C , Nicola J. Day B , Jill F. Johnstone D , Brendan M. Rogers E , Kylen Solvik E , Merritt R. Turetsky F and Michelle C. Mack A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, Northern Arizona University, PO Box 5620, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.

B Biology Department, Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3C5, Canada.

C Department of Wood and Forest Sciences, Laval University, 2405 rue de la Terrasse, Quebec City, QC, G1V 0A6, Canada.

D Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK, S7N 5E2, Canada.

E Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, 149 Woods Hole Road, MA 02540, USA.

F Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road East, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1, Canada.

G Corresponding author. Email: xanthe.walker@gmail.com

International Journal of Wildland Fire - https://doi.org/10.1071/WF17095
Submitted: 8 June 2017  Accepted: 17 November 2017   Published online: 14 February 2018

Abstract

Increased fire frequency, extent and severity are expected to strongly affect the structure and function of boreal forest ecosystems. In this study, we examined 213 plots in boreal forests dominated by black spruce (Picea mariana) or jack pine (Pinus banksiana) of the Northwest Territories, Canada, after an unprecedentedly large area burned in 2014. Large fire size is associated with high fire intensity and severity, which would manifest as areas with deep burning of the soil organic layer (SOL). Our primary objectives were to estimate burn depth in these fires and then to characterise landscapes vulnerable to deep burning throughout this region. Here we quantify burn depth in black spruce stands using the position of adventitious roots within the soil column, and in jack pine stands using measurements of burned and unburned SOL depths. Using these estimates, we then evaluate how burn depth and the proportion of SOL combusted varies among forest type, ecozone, plot-level moisture and stand density. Our results suggest that most of the SOL was combusted in jack pine stands regardless of plot moisture class, but that black spruce forests experience complete combustion of the SOL only in dry and moderately well-drained landscape positions. The models and calibrations we present in this study should allow future research to more accurately estimate burn depth in Canadian boreal forests.

Additional keywords: adventitious roots, boreal forest, burn depth, fire severity, Picea mariana, Pinus banksiana, soil organic layer depth, Taiga plains, Taiga shield.


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