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Keywords:

  • charcoal;
  • climate change;
  • forest history;
  • Holocene;
  • palaeoecology and land-use history;
  • Picea abies;
  • species invasion;
  • spruce forest;
  • wildfire activity

Summary

1. Global wildfire activity and biomass burning have varied substantially during the Holocene in both time and space. At the regional to continental scale, macroclimate is considered to be the predominant control regulating wildfire activity. By contrast, the role of forest tree composition is often considered as a subsidiary factor in studies addressing temporal variation in regional wildfire activity.

2. Here, we assemble a spatially comprehensive data set of 75 macroscopic charcoal records that reflect local burning and forest landscapes that are spread over a substantial part of the European boreal forest, spanning both oceanic and continental climates.

3. We show that the late-Holocene invasion of Norway spruce Picea abies, a new forest dominant in northern Europe, significantly reduced wildfire activity, thus altering forest disturbance dynamics at a subcontinental scale.

4.Synthesis. Our findings show that a biotic change in the local forest ecosystem altered the fire regime largely independent of regional climate change, illustrating that forest composition is an important parameter that must be considered when modelling future fire risk and carbon dynamics in boreal forests.