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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Decadal-Scale Recovery of Carbon Stocks After Wildfires Throughout the Boreal Forests

Palviainen, M.; Lauren, A.; Pumpanen, J.; Bergeron, Y.; Bond-Lamberty, B.; Larjavaara, M.; Kashian, D. M.; Koster, K.; Prokushkin, A.; Chen, H. Y. H.; Seedre, M.; Wardle, D. A.; Gundale, M. J.; Nilsson, M-C; Wang, C.; Berninger, F.


Boreal forests store 30% of the world's terrestrial carbon (C). Consequently, climate change mediated alterations in the boreal forest fire regime can have a significant impact on the global C budget. Here we synthesize the effects of forest fires on the stocks and recovery rates of C in boreal forests using 368 plots from 16 long-term (>= 100 year) fire chronosequences distributed throughout the boreal zone. Forest fires led to a decrease in total C stocks (excluding mineral soil) by an average of 60% (range from 80%), which was primarily a result of C stock declines in the living trees and soil organic layer. Total C stocks increased with time since fire largely following a sigmoidal shape Gompertz function, with an average asymptote of 8.1 kg C m(-2). Total C stocks accumulated at a rate of 2-60 g m(-2) yr(-1)during the first 100 years. Potential evapotranspiration (PET) was identified as a significant driver of C stocks and their post-fire recovery, likely because it integrates temperature, radiation, and the length of the growing season. If the fire return interval shortens to <= 100 years in the future, our findings indicate that many boreal forests will be prevented from reaching their full C storage potential. However, our results also suggest that climate warming-induced increases in PET may speed up the post-fire recovery of C stocks.


Carbon accumulation; Carbon pools; Chronosequence; Fire; Post-fire succession

Published in

Global Biogeochemical Cycles
2020, Volume: 34, number: 8, article number: e2020GB006612