Plant Diversity and Cover after Wildfire on Anthropogenically Disturbed and Undisturbed Sites in Subarctic Upland <i>Picea mariana</i> Forest
Postfire development of cover and diversity was studied in an upland Picea mariana-dominated forest in the Canadian Subarctic. Short-term vegetation responses of 10- and 22-year-old cleared rights-of-way and a forest site were investigated two and three growing seasons after a wildfire. Prefire and postfire investigation of the study site allowed direct comparison of species cover and frequency values, as well as the Shannon-Wiener diversity index, before and after the fire. The fire considerably reduced diversity on all sites. Species diversity increased with the level of prefire disturbance. Prefire disturbance influenced the fire's characteristics by altering the fuel load and soil moisture, which in turn affected the postfire revegetation through different soil and microclimatic conditions. The sites that were most severely disturbed before the fire experienced the most rapid revegetation, including the highest diversity index and highest plant cover. Of the sites that were undisturbed before the fire, the natural drainage swales offered the best growing conditions after the burn. Furthermore, prefire disturbance increased the patchiness of the burned area, and the residual flora of unburned patches added to postfire floristic diversity.