Question and Location: How does soil burn severity and early post-fire tree composition affect long-term understorey vegetation dynamics in the coniferous forests of eastern Canada?Method: Vegetation dynamics were assessed using paleoecological methods and a chronosequence analysis of extant stands. The relation between environmental factors and succession was evaluated using ordination techniques on the chronosequence data. Understorey succession was studied by regression analysis on the chronosequence data and through within-site Markovian transition probabilities between successive 1-cm layers of plant macroremains from soil organic matter profiles.Results: Initial tree composition (Picea mariana and Pinus banksiana) had little effect on understorey composition. Soil burn severity (measured as the thickness of the residual forest floor humus) significantly affected temporal changes in understorey species. Following fires of high severity, stands underwent a gradual paludification with a net increase in Sphagnum and ericaceous shrubs (Ledum groenlandicum), and a decrease in feathermosses. Paludification was accelerated after low severity fires, which led to the dominance of Sphagnum less than 200 years after fire, and of L. groenlandicum shortly after fire. In situ paleoecological work confirmed results obtained with the chrono-sequence analysis.Conclusions: One vegetation gradient related to time after disturbance is insufficient to account for the full complexity of long-term changes in understorey composition following fire. Current forestry practices that protect the forest floor humus may induce a premature paludification.Abbreviations: AMS = Accelerated mass spectrometry; GCC = Global climate change; HS = High severity; LS = Low severity; TSF = Time since last fire.Nomenclature: Marie-Victorin (1995) and Montgomery (1977) for vascular plants; Anderson et al. (1990) for bryophytes and Lévesque et al. (1988) for macrofossils.