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Paleoecological Investigation of Vegetation, Climate and Fire History in, and Adjacent to, Kootenay National Park, Southeastern British Columbia, Canada

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Paleoecological investigation of two montane lakes in the Kootenay region of southeast British Columbia, Canada, reveal changes in vegetation in response to climate and fire throughout the Holocene. Pollen, charcoal, and lake sediment carbon accumulation rate analyses show seven distinct zones at Marion Lake, presently in the subalpine Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (ESSF) biogeoclimatic (BEC) zone of Kootenay Valley, British Columbia. Comparison of these records to nearby Dog Lake of Kootenay National Park of Canada in the Montane Spruce (MS) BEC zone of Kootenay Valley, British Columbia reveals unique responses of ecosystems in topographically complex regions. The two most dramatic shifts in vegetation at Marion Lake occur firstly in the early Holocene/late Pleistocene in ML Zone 3 (11,010–10,180 cal. yr. B.P.) possibly reflecting Younger Dryas Chronozone cooling followed by early Holocene xerothermic warming noted by the increased presence of the dry adapted conifer, Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and increasing fire frequency. The second most prominent change occurred at the transition from ML Zone 5 through 6a (∼2,500 cal. yr. B.P.). This zone transitions from a warmer to a cooler/wetter climate as indicated by the increase in western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and subsequent drop in fire frequency. The overall cooling trend and reduction in fire frequency appears to have occurred ∼700 years later than at Dog Lake (∼43 km to the south and 80 m lower in elevation), resulting in a closed montane spruce forest, whereas Marion Lake developed into a subalpine ecosystem. The temporal and ecological differences between the two study sites likely reflects the particular climate threshold needed to move these ecosystems from developed forests to subalpine conditions, as well as local site climate and fire conditions. These paleoecological records indicate future warming may result in the MS transitioning into an Interior Douglas Fir (IDF) dominated landscape, while the ESSF may become more forested, similar to the modern MS, or develop into a grassland-like landscape dependent on fire frequency. These results indicate that climate and disturbance over a regional area can dictate very different localized vegetative states. Local management implications of these dynamic landscapes will need to understand how ecosystems respond to climate and disturbance at the local or ecosystem/habitat scale.
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