Fire & Climate
Disturbances alter ecosystem, community, or population structures and change elements of the biological and/or physical environment. Climate changes can alter the timing, magnitude, frequency, and duration of disturbance events, as well as the interactions of disturbances on a landscape, and climate change may already be affecting disturbance events and regimes. Interactions among disturbance regimes, such as the co-occurrence in space and time of bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires, can result in highly visible, rapidly occurring, and persistent changes in landscape composition and structure. Understanding how altered disturbance patterns and multiple disturbance interactions might result in novel and emergent landscape behaviors is critical for addressing climate change impacts and for designing land management strategies that are appropriate for future climates. This chapter describes the ecology of important disturbance regimes in the Northern Rockies region, and potential shifts in these regimes as a consequence of observed and projected climate change. We summarize five disturbance types present in the Northern Rockies that are sensitive to a changing climate—wildfires, bark beetles, white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), other forest diseases, and nonnative plant invasions—and provide information that can help managers anticipate how, when, where, and why climate changes may alter the characteristics of disturbance regimes.