J. F. Johnstone


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What Drives Reproductive Maturity and Efficiency in Serotinous Boreal Conifers?
Raquel Alfaro‐Sánchez, J. F. Johnstone, Steven G. Cumming, Nicola J. Day, Michelle C. Mack, Xanthe J. Walker, Jennifer L. Baltzer
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, Volume 10

In boreal North America, much of the landscape is covered by fire-adapted forests dominated by serotinous conifers. For these forests, reductions in fire return interval could limit reproductive success, owing to insufficient time for stands to reach reproductive maturity i.e., to initiate cone production. Improved understanding of the drivers of reproductive maturity can provide important information about the capacity of these forests to self-replace following fire. Here, we assessed the drivers of reproductive maturity in two dominant and widespread conifers, semi-serotinous black spruce and serotinous jack pine. Presence or absence of female cones were recorded in approximately 15,000 individuals within old and recently burned stands in two distinct ecozones of the Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada. Our results show that reproductive maturity was triggered by a minimum tree size threshold rather than an age threshold, with trees reaching reproductive maturity at smaller sizes where environmental conditions were more stressful. The number of reproductive trees per plot increased with stem density, basal area, and at higher latitudes (colder locations). The harsh climatic conditions present at these higher latitudes, however, limited the recruitment of jack pine at the treeline ecotone. The number of reproductive black spruce trees increased with deeper soils, whereas the number of reproductive jack pine trees increased where soils were shallower. We examined the reproductive efficiency i.e., the number of seedlings recruited per reproductive tree, linking pre-fire reproductive maturity of recently burned stands and post-fire seedling recruitment (recorded up to 4 years after the fires) and found that a reproductive jack pine can recruit on average three times more seedlings than a reproductive black spruce. We suggest that the higher reproductive efficiency of jack pine can explain the greater resilience of this species to wildfire compared with black spruce. Overall, these results help link life history characteristics, such as reproductive maturity, to variation in post-fire recruitment of dominant serotinous conifers.


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Increasing fire and the decline of fire adapted black spruce in the boreal forest
Jennifer L. Baltzer, Nicola J. Day, Xanthe J. Walker, David F. Greene, Michelle C. Mack, Heather D. Alexander, Dominique Arseneault, Jennifer L. Barnes, Yves Bergeron, Yan Boucher, Laura Bourgeau‐Chavez, Clifford M. Brown, Suzanne Carrière, Brian K. Howard, Stéphane Gauthier, Marc‐André Parisien, Kirsten A. Reid, Brendan M. Rogers, Carl A. Roland, Luc Sirois, Sarah E. Stehn, Dan K. Thompson, M. R. Turetsky, Sander Veraverbeke, Ellen Whitman, Jian Yang, J. F. Johnstone
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 118, Issue 45

Intensifying wildfire activity and climate change can drive rapid forest compositional shifts. In boreal North America, black spruce shapes forest flammability and depends on fire for regeneration. This relationship has helped black spruce maintain its dominance through much of the Holocene. However, with climate change and more frequent and severe fires, shifts away from black spruce dominance to broadleaf or pine species are emerging, with implications for ecosystem functions including carbon sequestration, water and energy fluxes, and wildlife habitat. Here, we predict that such reductions in black spruce after fire may already be widespread given current trends in climate and fire. To test this, we synthesize data from 1,538 field sites across boreal North America to evaluate compositional changes in tree species following 58 recent fires (1989 to 2014). While black spruce was resilient following most fires (62%), loss of resilience was common, and spruce regeneration failed completely in 18% of 1,140 black spruce sites. In contrast, postfire regeneration never failed in forests dominated by jack pine, which also possesses an aerial seed bank, or broad-leaved trees. More complete combustion of the soil organic layer, which often occurs in better-drained landscape positions and in dryer duff, promoted compositional changes throughout boreal North America. Forests in western North America, however, were more vulnerable to change due to greater long-term climate moisture deficits. While we find considerable remaining resilience in black spruce forests, predicted increases in climate moisture deficits and fire activity will erode this resilience, pushing the system toward a tipping point that has not been crossed in several thousand years.