Increasing evidence that pervasive warming trends are altering disturbance regimes and their interactions with fire has generated substantial interest and debate over the implications of these changes. Previous work has primarily focused on conditions that promote non-additive interactions of linked and compounded disturbances, but the spectrum of potential interaction patterns has not been fully considered. Here we develop and define terminology, expand on the existing conceptual framework and review the patterns and mechanisms of disturbance interactions with a focus on interactions between fire and other forest disturbances and a specific emphasis on resulting tree mortality. The types of interactions reflect the positive, negative, or neutral responses to the incidence, intensity, and effects of the interaction. These types of interactions are not always mutually exclusive, but can be distinct. The collective effect of the interactions will determine the longer-term ecosystem response that can result in a resistant, resilient, or compounded interaction. Our review indicates that the interactions of drought, bark beetles, or pathogens with fire often result in neutral or maintained interactions that do not negatively or positively influence the incidence or intensity following fire. The effect of these disturbance interactions on tree mortality ranged from antagonistic (reduced mortality compared to individual disturbances) to synergistic (greater mortality compared to individual disturbances) within and among disturbance interaction types but often resulted in additive effects (mortality is consistent with the summation of the two disturbances). Synergistic effects on tree mortality have been observed when the severity of the initial disturbance is moderate to high and time between disturbances is relatively short. When the sequence of disturbance interaction is reversed (e.g., fire precedes other disturbances) the conditions can generally promote impeded interactions (lower incidence of interaction), reduced interactions (lower intensity of interaction), and antagonistic interactions (lower tree mortality). While recent research on fire-disturbance interactions has increased over the last decade and provided important insights, more research that identifies the specific thresholds of incidence, intensity, and effects of interaction by region and forest type are needed to better assist management solutions that promote desired outcomes in rapidly changing ecosystems.
Kane, Jeffrey M.; Varner, J. Morgan; Metz, Margaret R.; van Mantgem, Phillip J. 2017. Characterizing interactions between fire and other disturbances and their impacts on tree mortality in western U.S. forests. Forest Ecology and Management 405:188-199.