, Volume 22, Issue 9, pp 1325-1339
Date: 14 Jul 2007

Scale-dependent determinants of heterogeneity in fire frequency in a coniferous boreal forest of eastern Canada

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Abstract

Despite the recognized importance of fire in North American boreal forests, the relative importance of stochastic and determinist portions of intra-regional spatial variability in fire frequency is still poorly understood. The first objective of this study is to identify sources of spatial variability in fire frequency in a landscape of eastern Quebec’s coniferous boreal forest. Broad-scale environmental factors considered included latitude, longitude, human activities and belonging to a given bioclimatic domain, whereas fine-scale factors included slope, position on the slope, aspect, elevation, surficial deposit and drainage. The average distance to waterbodies was also considered as a potential intermediate-scale source of variability in fire frequency. In order to assess these environmental factors’ potential influence, they were incorporated into a proportional hazard model, a semi-parametric form of survival analysis. We also used a digital elevation model in order to evaluate the dominant aspect within neighborhoods of varying sizes and successively incorporated these covariates into the proportional hazard model. We found that longitude significantly affects fire frequency, suggesting a maritime influence on fire frequency in this coastal landscape. We also found that position on the slope was related to fire frequency since hilltops and upperslopes were subject to a lower fire frequency. Dominant aspect was also related to fire frequency, but only when characterized within a neighborhood delimited by 4,000 to 10,000-m radii (5,027–31,416 ha). A 2–6-fold variation in fire frequency can be induced by geographic and topographic contexts, suggesting a substantial intra-regional heterogeneity in disturbance regime with potential consequences on forest dynamics and biodiversity patterns. Implications for forest management are also briefly discussed.