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Recent impact of fire on high-altitude balsam fir forests in south-central Quebec

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The dynamics of high-altitude balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.) forests is mainly driven by insect outbreaks and windthrows. However, very little work has been done on the role of fire on the development and maintenance of this ecosystem. In this study, we document the role of fire in the high-altitude balsam fir forests of the Réserve Faunique des Laurentides (RFL), southern Quebec. Sixteen sites were sampled among six different forest types described according to plant composition and fire evidence. At each site, the diameter structure was recorded and stand age was calculated based on tree-ring dating of individual trees and radiocarbon-dated surficial charcoal samples. Fire played a major role in the recent dynamics of high-altitude fir forests in the RFL. Over the last 250 years, nearly 50% of the study area burned during two fire conflagrations, i.e., around 1815 and in 1878. The fires triggered gradual changes in plant composition and forest structure, as shown by a succession of forest types ranging from white birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.) to spruce–fir types. Absence of surficial charcoal older than 300 years suggests that high-altitude forests of the RFL area were not subjected to a constant fire regime. It is possible that recent fires were caused by human activity.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: NSERC Northern Research Chair, Département de Biologie, Centre d’études nordiques, Université Laval, 1045 ave. de la Médecine, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada. 2: Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, Direction de la recherche forestière, Québec, QC G1P 3W8, Canada.

Publication date: July 1, 2012

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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