Holocene fire regimes and treeline migration rates in sub-arctic Canada

Kyle C. Sulphur*, Shantal A. Goldsmith, Jennifer M. Galloway, Andrew Macumber, Fritz Griffith, Graeme T. Swindles, R. Timothy Patterson, Hendrik Falck, Ian D. Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Holocene climate change resulted in major vegetation reorganization in sub-arctic Canada near modern treeline. However, little is known of the effects of long-term climate change on boreal forest composition and fire regimes below treeline in this region. We present a high-resolution vegetation and fire history from two sites within the modern boreal forest in the central Northwest Territories, Canada, to provide new insight on sub-arctic vegetation response to Holocene climate dynamics and the role of fire in boreal ecosystems. Palynological analysis of sediments retrieved from Waite and Danny's lakes (informal) is used to reconstruct regional vegetation dynamics and boreal fire regimes. The longer Danny's Lake record documents treeline expansion beginning at ca. 7430–7220 cal yr BP. Integration of our new data with previous work shows that treeline expanded between ca. 4050 cal. yr BP and ca. 3840 cal yr BP at a rate of ca. 50 m/yr in response to the 1–2 °C increase in temperature estimated for the Holocene Thermal Maximum. Forest fires were relatively frequent during the early Holocene, before declining in frequency in response to development of cooler and wetter climate conditions associated with the Neoglacial (beginning after ca. 2200–2320 cal yr BP). We document a trend of increasing fire frequency in the 20th century that is correlated with warming at this time. These dynamics south of modern treeline provide insight into factors creating heterogeneity in plant community responses to large-scale climate events in high northern latitudes and suggest that large scale reorganization of boreal vegetation and fire regimes can be expected over the coming decades.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-56
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Early online date10 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Fire
  • Holocene
  • Northwest Territories
  • Paleoecology
  • Palynology
  • Treeline

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


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