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Spatiotemporal Variations of Fire Frequency in Central Boreal Forest

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Abstract

Determination of the direct causal factors controlling wildfires is key to understanding wildfire–vegetation–climate dynamics in a changing climate and for developing sustainable management strategies for biodiversity conservation and maintenance of long-term forest productivity. In this study, we sought to understand how the fire frequency of a large mixedwood forest in the central boreal shield varies as a result of temporal and spatial factors. We reconstructed the fire history of an 11,600-km2 area located in the northwestern boreal forest of Ontario, using archival data of large fires occurring since 1921 and dendrochronological dating for fires prior to 1921. The fire cycle decreased from 295 years for the period of 1820–1920 to approximately 100 years for the period of 1921–2008. Spatially, fire frequency increased with latitude, attributable to higher human activities that have increased fragmentation and fire suppression in the southern portion of the study area. Fire frequency also increased with distance to waterbodies, and was higher on Podzols that were strongly correlated with moderate drainage and coniferous vegetation. The temporal increase of fire frequency in the central region, unlike western and eastern boreal forests where fire frequency has decreased, may be a result of increased warm and dry conditions associated with climate change in central North America, suggesting that the response of wildfire to global climate change may be regionally individualistic. The significant spatial factors we found in this study are in agreement with other wildfire studies, indicating the commonality of the influences by physiographic features and human activities on regional fire regimes across the boreal forest. Overall, wildfire in the central boreal shield is more frequent than that in the wetter eastern boreal region and less frequent than that in the drier western boreal region, confirming a climatic top-down control on the fire activities of the entire North American boreal forest.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Lindsey Jupp, Meelis Seedre, and Samuel Bartels for their assistance with field work. We also thank Sylvie Gauthier, Michael Gluck, Jian Wang, John MacGillivray, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript. Financial support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Abitibi-Bowater Inc., NSERC-UQAT/UQAM Chair in Sustainable Forest Management, and the Sustainable Forest Management Network of the Centers of Excellence of Canada.

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Correspondence to Han Y. H. Chen.

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DS designed the study, performed field data collection, conducted data analysis, and wrote the manuscript; HYHC conceived the study and contributed to study design, data analysis, and writing; YB conceived the study and contributed to study design and writing; DC contributed to data analysis and writing.

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Senici, D., Chen, H.Y.H., Bergeron, Y. et al. Spatiotemporal Variations of Fire Frequency in Central Boreal Forest. Ecosystems 13, 1227–1238 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-010-9383-9

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