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Drivers and trends in landscape patterns of stand-replacing fire in forests of the US Northern Rocky Mountains (1984-2010)

Author(s): Brian J. Harvey, Daniel C. Donato, Monica G. Turner
Year Published: 2016

Resilience in fire-prone forests is strongly affected by landscape burn-severity patterns, in part by governing propagule availability around stand-replacing patches in which all or most vegetation is killed. However, little is known about drivers of landscape patterns of stand-replacing fire, or whether such patterns are changing during an era of increased wildfire activity. Objectives: (a) Identify key direct/indirect drivers of landscape patterns of stand-replacing fire (e.g., size, shape of patches), (b) test for temporal trends in these patterns, and (c) anticipate thresholds beyond which landscape patterns of burn severity may change fundamentally. Methods We applied structural equation modeling to satellite burn-severity maps of fires in the US Northern Rocky Mountains (1984–2010) to test for direct and indirect (via influence on fire size and proportion stand-replacing) effects of climate/weather, vegetation, and topography on landscape patterns of standreplacing fire. We also tested for temporal trends in landscape patterns. Results: Landscape patterns of stand-replacing fire were strongly controlled by fire size and proportion stand-replacing, which were, in turn, controlled by climate/weather and vegetation/topography, respectively. From 1984 to 2010, the proportion of standreplacing fire within burn perimeters increased from 0.22 to 0.27. Trends for other landscape metrics were not significant, but may respond to further increases proportion stand-replacing fire. Conclusions: Fires from 1984 to 2010 exhibited tremendous heterogeneity in landscape patterns of stand-replacing fire, likely promoting resilience in burned areas. If trends continue on the current trajectory, however, fires may produce larger and simpler shaped patches of stand-replacing fire with more burned area far from seed sources. 

Citation: Harvey, B.J.; Donato, D.C.; Turner, M.G. 2016. Drivers and trends in landscape patterns of stand-replacing fire in forests of the US Northern Rocky Mountains (1984-2010). Landscape Ecology. doi:10.1007/s10980-016-0408-4
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - First Order, Fire Severity, Patch Size, Ecological - Second Order, Plants
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 14513
Record updated: Apr 20, 2017