Across the boreal forest, fire is the main disturbance factor and driver of ecosystem changes. In this study, we reconstructed a long-term, spatially explicit fire history of a forest-tundra region in northeastern Canada. We hypothesized that current occupation of similar topographic and edaphic sites by tundra and forest was the consequence of cumulative regression with time of forest cover due to compounding fire and climate disturbances. All fires were mapped and dated per 100 year intervals over the last 2000 years using several fire dating techniques. Past fire occurrences and post-fire regeneration at the northern forest limit indicate 70% reduction of forest cover since 1800 yr BP and nearly complete cessation of forest regeneration since 900 yr BP. Regression of forest cover was particularly important between 1500s–1700s and possibly since 900 yr BP. Although fire frequency was very low over the last 100 years, each fire event was followed by drastic removal of spruce cover. Contrary to widespread belief of northward boreal forest expansion due to recent warming, lack of post-fire recovery during the last centuries, in comparison with active tree regeneration more than 1000 years ago, indicates that the current climate does not favour such expansion.
One contribution of 12 to a Theme Issue ‘The boreal forest and global change’.
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