Articles | Volume 13, issue 6
Research article
07 Jun 2017
Research article |  | 07 Jun 2017

Postglacial fire history and interactions with vegetation and climate in southwestern Yunnan Province of China

Xiayun Xiao, Simon G. Haberle, Ji Shen, Bin Xue, Mark Burrows, and Sumin Wang

Abstract. A high-resolution, continuous 18.5 kyr (1 kyr  =  1000 cal yr BP) macroscopic charcoal record from Qinghai Lake in southwestern Yunnan Province, China, reveals postglacial fire frequency and variability history. The results show that three periods with high-frequency and high-severity fires occurred during the periods 18.5–15.0, 13.0–11.5, and 4.3–0.8 ka, respectively. This record was compared with major pollen taxa and pollen diversity indices from the same core, and tentatively related to the regional climate proxy records with the aim to separate climate- from human-induced fire activity, and discuss vegetation–fire–climate interactions. The results suggest that fire was mainly controlled by climate before 4.3 ka and by the combined actions of climate and humans after 4.3 ka. Before 4.3 ka, high fire activity corresponded to cold and dry climatic conditions, while warm and humid climatic conditions brought infrequent and weak fires. Fire was an important disturbance factor and played an important role in forest dynamics around the study area. Vegetation responses to fire after 4.3 ka are not consistent with those before 4.3 ka, suggesting that human influence on vegetation and fire regimes may have become more prevalent after 4.3 ka. The comparisons between fire activity and vegetation reveal that evergreen oaks are flammable plants and fire-tolerant taxa. Alnus is a fire-adapted taxon and a nonflammable plant, but density of Alnus forest is a key factor to decide its fire resistance. The forests dominated by Lithocarpus/Castanopsis and/or tropical trees and shrubs are not easy to ignite, but Lithocarpus/Castanopsis and tropical trees and shrubs are fire-sensitive taxa. Fire appears to be unfavourable to plant diversity in the study area.

Short summary
Knowledge of the past fire activity is a key for making sustainable management policies for forest ecosystems. A high-resolution macroscopic charcoal record from southwestern China reveals the postglacial fire history. Combined with the regional climate records and vegetation histories, it is concluded that fire was mainly controlled by climate before 4.3 ka and by combined action of climate and humans after 4.3 ka, and the relationship between fire activity and vegetation were also examined.