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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 23(4)

Dynamics of moisture content in spruce–feather moss and spruce–Sphagnum organic layers during an extreme fire season and implications for future depths of burn in Clay Belt black spruce forests

Aurélie Terrier A E, William J. de Groot B, Martin P. Girardin A C and Yves Bergeron A D

A Centre d’étude de la forêt, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Montréal, QC, H3C 3P8, Canada.
B Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Great Lakes Forestry Centre, 1219 Queen Street East, Sault Ste Marie, ON, P6A 2E5, Canada.
C Ressources naturelles Canada, Service canadien des forêts, Centre de foresterie des Laurentides, 1055 rue du P.E.P.S., C.P. 10380, Succursale Sainte-Foy, Québec, QC, G1V 4C7, Canada.
D Chaire industrielle en aménagement forestier durable (NSERC-UQAT-UQAM), Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 445 boulevard de l’Université, Rouyn-Noranda, QC, J9X 5E4, Canada.
E Corresponding author. Email: terrier.aurelie@courrier.uqam.ca

International Journal of Wildland Fire 23(4) 490-502 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF13133
Submitted: 13 August 2013  Accepted: 3 January 2014   Published: 11 April 2014

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High moisture levels and low frequency of wildfires have contributed to the accumulation of the organic layer in open black spruce (Picea mariana)–Sphagnum dominated stands of eastern boreal North America. The anticipated increase in drought frequency with climate change could lead to moisture losses and a transfer of the stored carbon back into the atmosphere due to increased fire disturbance and decomposition. Here we studied the dynamics of soil moisture content and weather conditions in spruce–feather moss and spruce–Sphagnum dominated stands of the boreal Clay Belt of eastern Canada during particularly dry conditions. A linear mixed model was developed to predict the moisture content of the organic material according to weather, depth and site conditions. This model was then used to calculate potential depth of burn and applied to climate model projections to determine the sensitivity of depth of burn to future fire hazards. Our results suggest that depth of burn varies only slightly in response to changes in weather conditions in spruce–Sphagnum stands. The reverse holds true in spruce–feather moss stands. In conclusion, our results suggest that spruce–Sphagnum stands in the boreal Clay Belt may be resistant to an increase in the depth of burn risk under climate change.


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