Canadian Forest Service Publications

Vegetation limits the impact of climate warming on boreal wildfires. 2013. Girardin, M.P.; Ali, A.A.; Carcaillet, C.; Blarquez, O.; Hely, C.; Terrier, A.; Genries, A.; Bergeron, Y. New Phytol. 199:1001-1011.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 34927

Language: French

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1111/nph.12322

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Mark record


  • Strategic introduction of less flammable broadleaf vegetation into landscapes was suggested as a management strategy for decreasing the risk of boreal wildfires projected under climatic change. However, the realization and strength of this offsetting effect in an actual environment remain to be demonstrated.

  • Here we combined paleoecological data, global climate models and wildfire modelling to assess regional fire frequency (RegFF, i.e. the number of fires through time) in boreal forests as it relates to tree species composition and climate over millennial time-scales.

  • Lacustrine charcoals from northern landscapes of eastern boreal Canada indicate that RegFF during the mid-Holocene (6000–3000 yr ago) was significantly higher than pre-industrial RegFF (AD c. 1750). In southern landscapes, RegFF was not significantly higher than the preindustrial RegFF in spite of the declining drought severity. The modelling experiment indicates that the high fire risk brought about by a warmer and drier climate in the south during the mid-Holocene was offset by a higher broadleaf component.

  • Our data highlight an important function for broadleaf vegetation in determining boreal RegFF in a warmer climate. We estimate that its feedback may be large enough to offset the projected climate change impacts on drought conditions.

Plain Language Summary

The introduction of hardwoods into the boreal forest is a strategy being considered to reduce the risk of fires. However, the effectiveness of this strategy remains to be demonstrated.

In this study, researchers combined data from lacustrine charcoal analyses, climate models and fire frequency modeling with forest composition data.

Lacustrine charcoal analysis in the eastern Canadian boreal forest indicates that fire frequency was higher 6 000 to 3 000 years ago during the pre-industrial era (around 1750). However, in the southern portion of the area studied, the frequency of fires is not significantly higher. The researchers concluded that the heightened fire risk resulting from a warmer and drier climate in the southern portion is counteracted by the higher number of hardwoods.