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Long-Term Fire Regime Estimated from Soil Charcoal in Coastal Temperate Rainforests

Ken Lertzman, Simon Fraser University
Daniel Gavin, Department of Plant Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
Douglas Hallett, Center for Environmental Sciences & Quaternary Sciences Program, Northern Arizon
Linda Brubaker, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
Dana Lepofsky, Simon Fraser University
Rolf Mathewes, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University

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Abstract

Coastal temperate rainforests from southeast Alaska through to southern Oregon are ecologically distinct from forests of neighboring regions, which have a drier, or more continental, climate and disturbance regimes dominated by fires. The long-term role of fire remains one of the key outstanding sources of uncertainty in the historical dynamics of the wetter and less seasonal forests that dominate the northerly two thirds of the rainforest region in British Columbia and Alaska. Here, we describe the long-term fire regime in two forests on the south coast of British Columbia by means of 244 AMS radiocarbon dates of charcoal buried in forest soils. In both forests, some sites have experienced no fire over the last 6000 years and many other sites have experienced only one or two fires during that time. Intervals between fires vary from a few centuries to several thousand years. In contrast to other conifer forests, this supports a model of forest dynamics where fires are of minor ecological importance. Instead, forest history is dominated by fine-scale processes of disturbance and recovery that maintain an ubiquitous late-successional character over the forest landscape. This has significant implications for ecosystem-based forest management and our understanding of carbon storage in forest soils.

Key words

Clayoquot Sound, Fraser Valley, coastal temperate rainforests, fire intervals, long-term fire regime, soil carbon storage, soil charcoal, sub-alpine forest, time-since-fire
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087