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Fire regimes at the transition between mixedwood and coniferous boreal forest in northwestern Quebec. Open Access


Author or creator
Bergeron, Y.
Gauthier, S.
Flannigan, M.
Kafka, V.
Additional contributors
boreal forest
climate change
disturbance regime
mixedwood forest
vegetation zone
Type of item
Journal Article (Published)
Fire history was reconstructed for an area of 15 000 km2 located in the transition zone between the mixed and coniferous forests in Quebec's southern boreal forest. We used aerial photographs, archives, and dendroecological data (315 sites) to reconstruct a stand initiation map for the area. The cumulative distribution of burnt area in relation to time since fire suggests that the fire frequency has decreased drastically since the end of the Little Ice Age (about 1850) in the entire region. However, a large part of the area was burned between 1910 and 1920 during intensive colonization and when the climate was very conducive to fire. For the period 1920–1945, large fires have mainly been concentrated in the more populated southern area, while few fires have been observed in the virgin coniferous forest in the north. Despite slight differences between the south and the north, fire cycles or the average number of years since fire are not significantly different. Since 1945, there have been far more fires in the south, but the mean fire size was smaller than in the north. These results suggest that the transition between the mixed and coniferous forests observed in the southern boreal forest cannot be explained by a difference in fire frequency, at least during the last 300 years. As climatic factors and species potential distribution did not vary significantly from south to north, we suggest that the transition from mixedwood to coniferous forests is mainly controlled by fire size and severity. Smaller and less severe fires would favor species associated with the mixedwood forests as many need survivors to reinvade burnt areas. The abundance of deciduous species in mixedwood forests, together with the presence of more lakes that can act as firebreaks, may contribute to decreases in fire size and severity. The transition between the two vegetation zones could be related to the initial setting following the vegetation invasion of the area during the Holocene. In this context, the limit of vegetation zones in systems controlled by disturbance regimes such as fires may not have reached a balance with current climatic conditions. Historical legacies and strong positive feedback between disturbance regimes and composition may filter and delay the responses to changes in climate.
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Copyright by the Ecological Society of America
Citation for previous publication
Yves Bergeron, Sylvie Gauthier, Mike Flannigan, and Victor Kafka 2004. Fire regimes at the transition between mixedwood and coniferous boreal forest in northwestern Quebec. Ecology 85:1916–1932.


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