Canadian Forest Service Publications

Fire frequency and vegetation dynamics for the south-central boreal forest of Quebec, Canada. 2002. Lesieur, D.; Gauthier, S.; Bergeron, Y. Can. J. For. Res. 32: 1996-2009.

Year: 2002

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 22472

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

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Abstract

Fire history and forest dynamics were reconstructed for a 3800-km2 territory located in the south-central boreal forest of Quebec. Fire cycle was characterized using a random sampling strategy combined with archival data on fires that had occurred since 1923 on private land owned by Smurfit-Stone. Bioclimatic subdomain, land use, surficial deposit, and mean distance from a firebreak did not affect the fire cycle. Fire cycles have been longer since the end of the Little Ice Age (~1850). Warming after the Little Ice Age seems to have triggered a change in fire frequency. Forest dynamics were characterized by transition matrices for changes in dominant canopy composition from 344 permanent sampling plots. These permanent plots were sampled approximately every 15 years over the preceding 40 years. We observed two distinct patterns of replacement: (i) deciduous and mixed stands were replaced by balsam fir (Abies balsamifera (L.) Mill.) (and, to a lesser extent, by black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) BSP)) and (ii) jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) was replaced by black spruce. Analyses confirm that species replacement occurs in the eastern boreal forest of Canada when the fire-return interval is long enough and that the substrate plays an important role along with other disturbances, such as insect outbreaks. Our results also suggest that the proportion of old-growth forests (>100 years old) in the landscape should increase as a result of the lengthening of the fire cycle. More and more stands are likely to experience species replacement. From the standpoint of sustainable forest management, this perspective calls into question the widespread use of clear-cutting in the boreal forest. Regional context must be taken into account in forest management if the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity are serious objectives. Economically and ecologically sound silvicultural scenarios that emulate natural processes are discussed.