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Data from: Fire history in a western Fennoscandian boreal forest as influenced by human land use and climate

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Rolstad, Jørund; Blanck, Ylva-li; Storaunet, Ken Olaf (2016). Data from: Fire history in a western Fennoscandian boreal forest as influenced by human land use and climate [Dataset]. Dryad.


Knowing the historical variation in fire regimes is instrumental in managing forests today and in predicting what may happen in the future. By cross-dating 745 fire scars in 378 samples of remnant Scots pines, we delineated 254 individual forest fires during the past 700 years in a 74-km2 section of Trillemarka-Rollagsfjell Nature Reserve in south-central Norway. Fire sizes, numbers, burn rates, and frequencies were compared with historical climate proxies, vegetation maps, and written sources. The results revealed patterns consistent with a predominantly climate-driven fire regime up to 1625, followed by periods of strong anthropogenic influence that increased fire frequency during 1600–1700s and diminished fires during 1800–1900s. This was documented by an abrupt increase in number of small fires from the early 1600s that markedly shortened fire intervals from a median of 73 to 37 yr. This shift in fire frequency coincided with a sudden appearance of early-season fires from 1625 and onward. Whereas late-season burn rate increased with summer temperature, no such relationship was found for early-season fires. These results were corroborated by written sources that describe anthropogenic forest fires and slash-and-burn cultivation expanding with the increasing population from the late 1500s and subsequently diminishing due to increasing timber values during 1700–1800s. Whereas human activity strongly influenced the fire regime at multidecadal to centennial scales, it was the interannual variability in climate that triggered large fire events, especially during the pre-1625 period. Prior to 1625, the percentage of years with fire tripled from 7% during cold summers (10–12°C) to 21% during warm summers (14–16°C). Burn rate increased even more, from 0.01% to 1.3% for the same temperature intervals. Ecologically, the post-1625 period is remarkable in such a way that human activity, first by greatly increasing fire frequency and subsequently almost eradicating fires, possibly influenced the fire regime to such an extent that it may be unprecedented for millennia.

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