Geneviève É. Degré‐Timmons


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Post-fire Recovery of Soil Organic Layer Carbon in Canadian Boreal Forests
Kristen Bill, Catherine M. Dieleman, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Geneviève É. Degré‐Timmons, Michelle C. Mack, Nicola J. Day, Steven G. Cumming, Xanthe J. Walker, M. R. Turetsky

Conifer forests historically have been resilient to wildfires in part due to thick organic soil layers that regulate combustion and post-fire moisture and vegetation change. However, recent shifts in fire activity in western North America may be overwhelming these resilience mechanisms with potential impacts for energy and carbon exchange. Here, we quantify the long-term recovery of the organic soil layer and its carbon pools across 511 forested plots. Our plots span ~ 140,000 km2 across two ecozones of the Northwest Territories, Canada, and allowed us to investigate the impacts of time-after-fire, site moisture class, and dominant canopy type on soil organic layer thickness and associated carbon stocks. Despite thinner soil organic layers in xeric plots immediately after fire, these drier stands supported faster post-fire recovery of the soil organic layer than in mesic plots. Unlike xeric or mesic stands, post-fire soil carbon accumulation rates in hydric plots were negligible despite wetter forested plots having greater soil organic carbon stocks immediately post-fire compared to other stands. While permafrost and high-water tables inhibit combustion and maintain thick organic soils immediately after fire, our results suggest that these wet stands are not recovering their pre-fire carbon stocks on a century timescale. We show that canopy conversion from black spruce to jack pine or deciduous dominance could reduce organic soil carbon stocks by 60–80% depending on stand age. Our two main findings—decreasing organic soil carbon storage with increasing deciduous cover and the lack of post-fire SOL recovery in hydric sites—have implications for the turnover time of carbon stocks in the western boreal forest region and also will impact energy fluxes by controlling albedo and surface soil moisture.

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The influence of postfire recovery and environmental conditions on boreal vegetation
Alexis Gardiner Jorgensen, Raquel Alfaro‐Sánchez, Steven G. Cumming, Alison L. White, Geneviève É. Degré‐Timmons, Nicola J. Day, M. R. Turetsky, Jill F. Johnstone, Xanthe J. Walker, Jennifer L. Baltzer
Ecosphere, Volume 14, Issue 7

Abstract Climate change is increasing the frequency and extent of fires in the boreal biome of North America. These changes can alter the recovery of both canopy and understory vegetation. There is uncertainty about plant and lichen recovery patterns following fire, and how they are mediated by environmental conditions. Here, we aim to address these knowledge gaps by studying patterns of postfire vegetation recovery at the community and individual species level over the first 100+ years following fire. Data from vegetation surveys collected from 581 plots in the Northwest Territories, Canada, ranging from 1 to 275 years postfire, were used to assess the influence of time after fire and local environmental conditions on plant community composition and to model trends in the relative abundance of several common plant and lichen species. Time after fire significantly influenced vegetation community composition and interacted with local environmental conditions, particularly soil moisture. Soil moisture individually (in the absence of interactions) was the most commonly significant variable in plant and lichen recovery models. Patterns of postfire recovery varied greatly among species. Our results provide novel information on plant community recovery after fire and highlight the importance of soil moisture to local vegetation patterns. They will aid northern communities and land managers to anticipate the impacts of increased fire activity on both local vegetation and the wildlife that relies on it.


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Predicting patterns of terrestrial lichen biomass recovery following boreal wildfires
Ruth J. Greuel, Geneviève É. Degré‐Timmons, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Jill F. Johnstone, Eliot J. B. McIntire, Nicola J. Day, Sarah J. Hart, Philip D. McLoughlin, Fiona K. A. Schmiegelow, M. R. Turetsky, Alexandre Truchon‐Savard, Mario D. van Telgen, Steven G. Cumming
Ecosphere, Volume 12, Issue 4

Increased fire activity due to climate change may impact the successional dynamics of boreal forests, with important consequences for caribou habitat. Early successional forests have been shown to support lower quantities of caribou forage lichens, but geographic variation in, and controls on, the rates of lichen recovery has been largely unexplored. In this study, we sampled across a broad region in northwestern Canada to compare lichen biomass accumulation in ecoprovinces, including the Saskatchewan Boreal Shield, the Northwest Territories Taiga Shield, and Northwest Territories Taiga Plains, divided into North and South. We focused on the most valuable Cladonia species for boreal and barren-ground caribou: Cladonia mitis and C. arbuscula, C. rangiferina and C. stygia, and C. stellaris and C. uncialis. We developed new allometric equations to estimate lichen biomass from field measurements of lichen cover and height; allometries were consistent among ecoprovinces, suggesting generalizability. We then used estimates of lichen biomass to quantify patterns of lichen recovery in different stand types, ecoprovinces, and with time following stand-replacing fire. We used a hurdle model to account both for the heterogeneous nature of lichen presence (zero inflation) and for the range of abundance in stands where lichen was present. The first component of the hurdle model, a generalized linear model, identified stand age, stand type, and ecoprovince as significant predictors of lichen presence. With a logistic growth model, a measure of lichen recovery (time to 50% asymptotic value) varied from 28 to 73 yr, dependent on stand type and ecoprovince. The combined predictions of the hurdle model suggest the most rapid recovery of lichen biomass across our study region occurred in jack pine in the Boreal Shield (30 yr), while stands located in the Taiga Plains (North and South) required a longer recovery period (approximately 75 yr). These results provide a basis for estimating future caribou habitat that encompasses some of the large variation in fire effects on lichen abundance and vegetation types across the range of boreal and barren-ground caribou in North America.


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Fire characteristics and environmental conditions shape plant communities via regeneration strategy
Nicola J. Day, Alison L. White, Jill F. Johnstone, Geneviève É. Degré‐Timmons, Steven G. Cumming, Michelle C. Mack, M. R. Turetsky, Xanthe J. Walker, Jennifer L. Baltzer
Ecography, Volume 43, Issue 10

© 2020 The Authors. Ecography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos Climate change is altering disturbance regimes outside historical norms, which can impact biodiversity by selecting for plants with particular traits. The relative impact of disturbance characteristics on plant traits and community structure may be mediated by environmental gradients. We aimed to understand how wildfire impacted understory plant communities and plant regeneration strategies along gradients of environmental conditions and wildfire characteristics in boreal forests. We established 207 plots (60 m2) in recently burned stands and 133 plots in mature stands with no recent fire history in comparable gradients of stand type, site moisture (drainage) and soil organic layer (SOL) depth in two ecozones in Canada's Northwest Territories. At each plot, we recorded all vascular plant taxa in the understory and measured the regeneration strategy (seeder, resprouter, survivor) in burned plots, along with seedbed conditions (mineral soil and bryophyte cover). Dispersal, longevity and growth form traits were determined for each taxon. Fire characteristics measured included proportion of pre-fire SOL combusted (fire severity), date of burn (fire seasonality) and pre-fire stand age (time following fire). Results showed understory community composition was altered by fire. However, burned and mature stands had similar plant communities in wet sites with deep SOL. In the burned plots, regeneration strategies were determined by fire severity, drainage and pre- and post-fire SOL depth. Resprouters were more common in wet sites with deeper SOL and lower fire severity, while seeders were associated with drier sites with thinner SOL and greater fire severity. This led to drier burned stands being compositionally different from their mature counterparts and seedbed conditions were important. Our study highlights the importance of environment–wildfire interactions in shaping plant regeneration strategies and patterns of understory plant community structure across landscapes, and the overriding importance of SOL depth and site drainage in mediating fire severity, plant regeneration and community structure.