Climate forcing of regional fire years in the upper Great Lakes Region, USA

Download Sutheimer_IJWF_2024

Background. Drivers of fire regimes vary among spatial scales, and fire history reconstructions are often limited to stand scales, making it difficult to partition effects of regional climate forcing versus individual site histories.
Aims. To evaluate regional-scale historical fire regimes over 350 years, we analysed an extensive fire-scar network, spanning 240 km across the upper Great Lakes Region in North America.
Methods. We estimated fire frequency, identified regionally widespread fire years (based on the fraction of fire-scarred tree samples, fire extent index (FEI), and synchronicity of fire years), and evaluated fire seasonality and climate–fire relationships.
Key results. Historically, fire frequency and seasonality were variable within and among Great Lakes’ ecoregions. Climate forcing at regional scales resulted in synchronised fires, primarily during the late growing season, which were ubiquitous across the upper Great Lakes Region. Regionally significant fire years included 1689, 1752, 1754, 1791, and 1891. Conclusions. We found significant climate forcing of region-wide fire regimes in the upper Great Lakes Region.
Implications. Historically, reoccurring fires in the upper Great Lakes Region were instrumental for shaping and maintaining forest resilience. The climate conditions that helped promote widespread fire years historically may be consistent with anticipated climate–fire interactions due to climate change.