Change of fire frequency in the eastern Canadian boreal forests during the Holocene: does vegetation composition or climate trigger the fire regime?

Authors

  • Christopher Carcaillet,

    Corresponding author
    1. Département de Géographie, Université de Montréal, CP 6128 Centre-Ville, Montréal (Qc) H3C 3J7, Canada;
    2. Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Forestière interuniversitaire, Université du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888 Centre Ville, Montréal (Qc) H3C 3P8, Canada;
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  • Yves Bergeron,

    1. Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Forestière interuniversitaire, Université du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888 Centre Ville, Montréal (Qc) H3C 3P8, Canada;
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  • Pierre J. H. Richard,

    1. Département de Géographie, Université de Montréal, CP 6128 Centre-Ville, Montréal (Qc) H3C 3J7, Canada;
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  • Bianca Fréchette,

    1. Département de Géographie, Université de Montréal, CP 6128 Centre-Ville, Montréal (Qc) H3C 3J7, Canada;
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  • Sylvie Gauthier,

    1. Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Forestière interuniversitaire, Université du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888 Centre Ville, Montréal (Qc) H3C 3P8, Canada;
    2. Canadian Forest Service, Laurentian Forestry Center, 1055 rue du PEPS, PO Box 3800, Ste Foy (Qc) G1V 4C7, Canada;
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  • Yves T. Prairie

    1. Département des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, CP 8888 Centre Ville, Montréal (Qc) H3C 3P8, Canada
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and present address: C. Carcaillet, Institut de Botanique, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, 163 rue A. Broussonet, F-34090 Montpellier, France.

Summary

  • 1Studies on the variability of natural fire regimes are needed to understand plant responses in a changing environment. Since vegetation changes might follow or trigger changes in fire frequency, climate models suggest that changes in water balance will accompany current global warming, and the response of fire regimes to Holocene hydro-climate changes and vegetation switches may thus serve as a useful analogue for current change.
  • 2We present high-resolution charcoal records from laminated cores from three small kettle lakes located in mixed-boreal and coniferous-boreal forest. Comparison with some pollen diagrams from the lakes is used to evaluate the role of the local vegetation in the fire history. Fire frequency was reconstructed by measuring the separation of peaks after detrending the charcoal accumulation rate from any background.
  • 3Several distinct periods of fire regime were detected with fire intervals. Between c. 7000–3000 cal. year BP, fire intervals were double those in the last 2000 years. Fire frequency changed 1000 years earlier in the coniferous-boreal forest than in the mixed-boreal forest to the south. The absence of changes in combustibility species in the pollen data that could explain the fire frequency transition suggests that the vegetation does not control the long-term fire regime in the boreal forest.
  • 4Climate appears to be the main process triggering fire. The increased frequency may be the result of more frequent drought due to the increasing influence of cool dry westerly Pacific air-masses from mid to late Holocene, and thus of conditions conducive to ignition and fire spread. In east Canada, this change matches other long-term climate proxies and suggests that a switch in atmospheric circulation 2–3000 years ago triggered a less stable climate with more dry summers. Future warming is moreover likely to reduce fire frequency.

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