International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Will climate change drive 21st century burn rates in Canadian boreal forest outside of its natural variability: collating global climate model experiments with sedimentary charcoal data

Yves Bergeron A E , Dominic Cyr B , Martin P. Girardin C and Christopher Carcaillet D

A 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.

B Centre d’Étude de la Forêt, Université du Québec à Montréal, PO Box, Centre-ville, CP 8888, Montréal, QC, H3C 3P8, Canada.

C Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Laurentian Forestry Centre, 1055 du PEPS, PO Box 10380, Stn Sainte-Foy, Québec, QC, G1V 4C7, Canada.

D Centre for Bio-Archeology and Ecology (UMR5059 CNRS) and Paleoenvironments and Chronoecology (PALECO EPHE), Université Montpellier 2, 163 Rue Broussonet, F-34090, Montpellier, France.

E Corresponding author. Email: yves.bergeron@uqat.ca

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(8) 1127-1139 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF09092
Submitted: 22 August 2009  Accepted: 5 March 2010   Published: 10 December 2010

Abstract

Natural ecosystems have developed within ranges of conditions that can serve as references for setting conservation targets or assessing the current ecological integrity of managed ecosystems. Because of their climate determinism, forest fires are likely to have consequences that could exacerbate biophysical and socioeconomical vulnerabilities in the context of climate change. We evaluated future trends in fire activity under climate change in the eastern Canadian boreal forest and investigated whether these changes were included in the variability observed during the last 7000 years from sedimentary charcoal records from three lakes. Prediction of future annual area burned was made using simulated Monthly Drought Code data collected from an ensemble of 19 global climate model experiments. The increase in burn rate that is predicted for the end of the 21st century (0.45% year–1 with 95% confidence interval (0.32, 0.59) falls well within the long-term past variability (0.37 to 0.90% year–1). Although our results suggest that the predicted change in burn rates per se will not move this ecosystem to new conditions, the effects of increasing fire incidence cumulated with current rates of clear-cutting or other low-retention types of harvesting, which still prevail in this region, remain preoccupying.


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