A Geographic Perspective on Factors Controlling Post-Fire Succession in Boreal Black Spruce Forests in Western North America

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Eric S Kasischke1,2, Evan S Kane3, Helene Genet4, Merritt R Turetsky5, Jonathan A ODonnell6, Elizabeth Hoy1, Kirsten Barrett7 and Jennifer Lynn Baltzer8, (1)University of Maryland, Geographical Sciences, College Park, MD, United States, (2)NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, United States, (3)Michigan Tech Univ--SFRES, Hancock, MI, United States, (4)Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States, (5)University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada, (6)National Park Service Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States, (7)University of Leicester, Leicester, United Kingdom, (8)Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada
Recent changes to climate and the fire regime have resulted in a number of distinct changes to patterns of post-fire succession in the boreal forest region of western North America. In interior Alaska and Yukon, these responses include a shift from spruce to deciduous dominated forests in black spruce forests that experienced exposure of mineral soils from deep burning of surface organic soils, as well as low seedling recruitment in white spruce forests as a result of moisture stress. In this presentation, we will use a physical geography framework to analyze factors controlling low seedling recruitment in recently burned black spruce forests in Alaska. This approach allows for understanding how changes in the biologic components of black spruce forest ecosystems (e.g., biogeography) are controlled by factors related to geomorphology and climate over multiple spatial and temporal scales. In particular, this framework will be used to examine how the interactions between fire, climate, topography and soil texture influence pre-fire and post-fire permafrost conditions, which interact to have a strong influence on variations in soil moisture. In turn, recent changes to climate combined with variations in soil moisture controlled by differences in permafrost conditions (ground ice content, active layer thickness) can be used to explain variations in post-fire seedling recruitment in black spruce forests, where low recruitment is occurring on the sites with the driest soils. In addition, we will examine the need for further research in other boreal forest regions of western North America where the presence of pine species (jack and lodgepole) that are absent in Alaska, as well as differences in soils and permafrost conditions, are likely resulting in additional patterns of post-fire succession as a result of recent changes to climate and the fire regime.