Canadian Forest Service Publications

Are the old-growth forests of the Clay Belt part of a fire-regulated mosaic? 2005. Cyr, D.; Bergeron, Y.; Gauthier, S.; Larouche, A.C. Can. J. For. Res. 35: 65-73.

Year: 2005

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 25710

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

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Abstract

Old-growth forests make up a substantial proportion of the forest mosaic in the Clay Belt region of Ontario and Quebec, Canada, despite fire cycles that are presumed to be relatively short. Two hypotheses have been suggested as explanations for this phenomenon: (1) the old-growth forests in question are located on sites that are protected from fire or (2) the fire hazard is just as great there as elsewhere, and that part of the mosaic is simply the tail of the distribution, having been spared from fire merely by chance. The tree-ring method has proven inadequate as a means of determining the date of the most recent fire in these old-growth forests, as the time that has elapsed since that date probably exceeds the age of the oldest trees. Accordingly, a paleoecological study was conducted with a view to determining the date of the last fire in these forests. Charcoal horizons were located and radiocarbon dated in six old-growth forests. The possibility that these forests have never burned at all is ruled out by the fact that macroscopic charcoal fragments were found at all sites. The proximity of potential firebreaks has a significant influence in the survival model, suggesting fire-cycle heterogeneity throughout the landscape. However, the proportion of old-growth forests observed is in agreement with what would be expected assuming that fire hazard is independent of stand age. Old-growth stands could thus be incorporated into natural disturbance based management, although the great variability of the intervals between catastrophic disturbances should be carefully considered.