Impact of fire behavior on postfire forest development in a homogeneous boreal landscape

  • Arseneault D
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Although behavior of stand-replacing wildfire has significant impacts on initial tree regeneration in the fire-prone boreal landscape, the unknown behavior of most past wildfires has precluded any evaluation of these impacts on the progressive development of late-successional forest ecosystems. In this study, the effects of fire behavior on longterm ecosystem development were evaluated by linking the banding pattern of tree density in a jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) - black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP) forest on a flat and homogeneous landform in northern Quebec to a similar, previously documented pattern of unburned strips of tree crowns. Complex wildfire-atmosphere interactions during the spread of a 1941 stand-replacing wildfire created this pattern in stem density, most likely by differentially damaging the canopy-stored seed bank between areas of contrasting fire severity. Sites with initial differences in seedling densities have followed different recovery pathways and developed markedly different forest structures, as well as differences in species abundance. Compared with areas of severe crown fire, the present-day vegetation in areas of low crown fire severity shows a higher density of living pines in the canopy layer, higher spruce and dead pine densities in the subcanopy layer, a lower pine density in the understory layer, and a higher abundance of Cladina rangiferina (L.) and Cladina stellaris Opiz (Brodo) in the lichen mat. This close spatial connection between crown fire severity and the ecological processes driving ecosystem recovery may explain large differences in vegetation among sites in the boreal landscape

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  • Dominique Arseneault

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