Canadian Forest Service Publications

Biotic and abiotic regulation of lightning fire initiation in the mixedwood boreal forest. 2006. Krawchuk, M.A.; Cumming, S.G.; Flannigan, M.D.; Wein, R.W. Ecology 87: 458-468.

Year: 2006

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 26164

Language: English

Availability: Order paper copy (free)

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Lightning fire is the dominant natural disturbance of the western mixedwood boreal forest of North America. We quantified the independent effects of weather and forest composition on lightning fire initiation (a detected and recorded fire start) patterns in Alberta, Canada, to demonstrate how these biotic and abiotic components contribute to ecosystem dynamics in the mixedwood boreal forest. We used logistic regression to describe variation in annual initiation occurrence among 10000-ha landscape units (voxels) covering a 9 million-ha study region over 11 years.

At a voxel scale, forest composition explained more variation in annual initiation than did weather indices. Initiations occurred more frequently in landscapes with more conifer fuels (Picea spp.), and less in aspen-dominated (Populus spp.) ones. Initiations were less frequent in landscapes that had recently burned. Variation in initiation was also influenced by joint weather–lightning indices, but to a lesser degree. For each voxel, these indices quantified the number of days in the fire season when moisture levels were low and lightning was detected. Regional indices of fire weather severity explained substantial interannual variation of initiation, and the effect of forest composition was stronger in years with more severe fire weather. Our study is a conclusive demonstration of biotic and abiotic regulation of lightning fire initiation in the mixedwood boreal forest. The independent effects of forest composition emphasize that vegetation feedbacks strongly regulate disturbance dynamics in the region.