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Fine-scale spatial climate variation and drought mediate the likelihood of reburning

Author(s): Sean A. Parks, Marc-Andre Parisien, Carol Miller, Lisa M. Holsinger, Scott L. Baggett
Year Published: 2018

In many forested ecosystems, it is increasingly recognized that the probability of burning is substantially reduced within the footprint of previously burned areas. This self-limiting effect of wildland fire is considered a fundamental emergent property of ecosystems and is partly responsible for structuring landscape heterogeneity (i.e., mosaics of different age classes), thereby reducing the likelihood of uncharacteristically large fires in regions with active fire regimes. However, the strength and longevity of this self-limiting phenomenon is not well understood in most fire-prone ecosystems. In this study, we quantify the self-limiting effect in terms of its strength and longevity for five fire-prone study areas in western North America and investigate how each measure varies along a spatial climatic gradient and according to temporal (i.e., annual) climatic variation. Results indicate that the longevity (i.e., number of years) of the self-limiting effect ranges between 15 yr in the warm and dry study area in the southwestern United States to 33 yr in the cold, northern study areas in located in northwestern Montana and the boreal forest of Canada. We also found that spatial climatic variation has a strong influence on wildland fire's self-limiting capacity. Specifically, the self-limiting effect within each study area was stronger and lasted longer in areas with low mean moisture deficit (i.e., wetter and cooler settings) compared to areas with high mean moisture deficit (warmer and drier settings). Last, our findings show that annual climatic variation influences wildland fire's self-limiting effect: drought conditions weakened the strength and longevity of the self-limiting effect in all study areas, albeit at varying magnitudes. Overall, our study provides support for the idea that wildland fire contributes to spatial heterogeneity in fuel ages that subsequently mediate future fire sizes and effects. However, our findings show that the strength and longevity of the self-limiting effect varies considerably according to spatial and temporal climatic variation, providing land and fire managers relevant information for effective planning and management of fire and highlighting that fire itself is an important factor contributing to fire-free intervals.

Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Ecosystem Changes, Structure, Fire & Climate, Fire & Wilderness
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 16808
Record updated: May 16, 2018