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Open Access Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 19(8)

Resilience of the boreal forest in response to Holocene fire-frequency changes assessed by pollen diversity and population dynamics

Christopher Carcaillet A B E , Pierre J. H. Richard C , Yves Bergeron D , Bianca Fréchette C and Adam A. Ali B

A Paleoenvironments and Chronoecology (PALECO), École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), Institut de Botanique, 163 Rue Broussonet, F-34090 Montpellier, France.
B Centre for Bio-Archaeology and Ecology (UMR5059 CNRS), Université Montpellier 2, Institut de Botanique, 163 Rue Broussonet, F-34090 Montpellier, France.
C Département de Géographie, Université de Montréal, PO Box 6128, succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, H3C 3J7, Canada.
D Chaire industrielle en aménagement forestier durable (CRSNG), Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 445 Boulevard de l’Université, Rouyn-Noranda, QC, J9X 5E4, Canada.
E Corresponding author. Email: carcaillet@univ-montp2.fr

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(8) 1026-1039 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF09097
Submitted: 4 September 2009  Accepted: 13 August 2010   Published: 10 December 2010


 
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Abstract

The hypothesis that changes in fire frequency control the long-term dynamics of boreal forests is tested on the basis of paleodata. Sites with different wildfire histories at the regional scale should exhibit different vegetation trajectories. Mean fire intervals and vegetation reconstructions are based respectively on sedimentary charcoal and pollen from two small lakes, one in the Mixedwood boreal forests and the second in the Coniferous boreal forests. The pollen-inferred vegetation exhibits different trajectories of boreal forest dynamics after afforestation, whereas mean fire intervals have no significant or a delayed impact on the pollen data, either in terms of diversity or trajectories. These boreal forests appear resilient to changes in fire regimes, although subtle modifications can be highlighted. Vegetation compositions have converged during the last 1200 years with the decrease in mean fire intervals, owing to an increasing abundance of boreal species at the southern site (Mixedwood), whereas changes are less pronounced at the northern site (Coniferous). Although wildfire is a natural property of boreal ecosystems, this study does not support the hypothesis that changes in mean fire intervals are the key process controlling long-term vegetation transformation. Fluctuations in mean fire intervals alone do not explain the historical and current distribution of vegetation, but they may have accelerated the climatic process of borealisation, likely resulting from orbital forcing.

Additional keywords: climate, fire, Holocene, lake sediments, numerical analysis, pollen diversity.


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