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Role of forest fires in Holocene stand-scale dynamics in the unmanaged taiga forest of northwestern Russia

Kuosmanen, Niina, Fang, Keyan, Bradshaw, Richard HW, Clear, Jennifer L, Seppä, Heikki
Betula, Culicidae, Holocene epoch, Larix sibirica, Picea abies, boreal forests, botanical composition, charcoal, conifers, fire frequency, fire history, fire regime, forest fires, fossils, pollen, stomata, taiga, trees, wavelet, Russia
Fossil pollen, conifer stomata, and charcoal records for the last 10,000 years were studied from three small hollow sites (Larix Hollow, Mosquito Hollow, and Olga Hollow) located at the modern western range limit of Siberian larch (Larix sibirica) in northwestern Russia to investigate the role of forest fires in stand-scale dynamics of taiga vegetation. Wavelet coherence analysis was utilized to reveal the significance of fire on the vegetation composition at different timescales by assessing the phase and strength of the relationship between forest fires and most common boreal tree taxa in a time–frequency window. Pollen and stomata data show that all of the modern-day common tree taxa, including Norway spruce (Picea abies) and Siberian larch, have been present in the study region since the early Holocene. The absence of charcoal layers at Mosquito Hollow suggests that this site has acted as a fire-free refugium with continuous dominance of spruce throughout the Holocene. Meanwhile, the Larix Hollow record indicates frequent local fire events and as a consequence, a more variable tree species composition. The wavelet coherence results show that the impact of forest fires on vegetation varies from short-term (<200-year periods) changes in individual tree taxa to long-term (400–800 years) changes in forest composition, such as the expansion of spruce population after local high-intensity fires around 7500–7000 cal. yr BP and the increase in abundance of birch and alder during periods of high fire frequency. Our results suggest that Holocene fire histories can be markedly different within a small geographical area, demonstrating the importance of site-specific factors in the local fire regime in the unmanaged taiga forest.