Data_Sheet_9_A Holocene Perspective of Vegetation Controls on Seasonal Boreal Wildfire Sizes Using Numerical Paleo-Ecology.DOCX
Wildland fire is the most important disturbance in the boreal forests of eastern North America, shaping the floral composition, structure and spatial arrangement. Although the long-term evolution of the frequency and quantity of burned biomass in these forests can be estimated from paleo-ecological studies, we know little about the evolution of fire sizes. We have therefore developed a methodological approach that provides insights into the processes and changes involved over time in the historical fire-vegetation-climate environment of the coniferous forests (CF) and mixedwood forests (MF) of eastern boreal North America, paying particular attention to the metric of fire size. Lacustrine charcoal particles sequestered in sediments from MF and CF regions were analyzed to reconstruct changes in estimated burned biomass, fire frequency, and their ratio interpreted as fire size (FS-index), over the last 7,000 years. A fire propagation model was used to simulate past fire sizes using both a reference landscape, where MF and CF compositions over time were prescribed using pollen reconstructions, and climate inputs provided by the HadCM3BL-M1 snapshot simulations. Lacustrine charcoals showed that Holocene FS-indices did not differ significantly between MF and CF because of the high variability in fire frequencies. However, the estimated burned biomass from MF was always lower than that from CF, significantly so since 5,000 BP. Beyond the variability, the FS-index was lower in MF than CF throughout the Holocene, with slight changes in both forests from 7,000 to 1,000 BP, and simultaneous increases over the last millennium. The fire model showed that MF fires were consistently smaller than CF fires throughout the Holocene, with larger differences in the past than today. The fire model also highlighted the fact that spring fires in both forest types have always been larger than summer fires over the last 7,000 years, which concurs with present-day fire statistics. This study illustrates how fire models, built and used today for forecasting and firefighting, can also be used to enhance our understanding of past conditions within the fire-vegetation-climate nexus.