Climate and Fire Regime Change
Fire and Landscape Mosaics
Persistent fire refugia, which are forest stands that have survived multiple fires, play an important ecological role in the resilience of mountainous forest ecosystems following disturbances. The loss of numerous refugia patches to large, high-severity fires in recent years is prompting the need to better understand drivers of fire refugia endurance. We investigate the role of topographic features on fire refugia survivorship based on pre-1950 fire regime conditions. Mapped refugia patches (n = 557) covering 28% of the forested landscape were used to develop three predictive models based on patch size (all sizes, <30 ha, <10 ha), as a function of explanatory variables describing several components of topography. Five topographic variables consistently favoured persistent fire refugia occurrence, though the ranking of explanatory variable importance varied among patch-size models. For the all-refugia model, elevation (23.7%), proportion of non-fuel at a 5000-m scale (20.3%), solar radiation (14.6%), Topographic Position Index at a 2000-m scale (10.1%), and distance from rivers (10.1%) were the top variables. The models’ predictive abilities were high, but decreased with larger patch sizes. We conclude that many suitable areas are currently unoccupied by fire refugia; that random elements affect their survivorship; and that additional environmental factors not considered in this study may contribute to their persistence. With changing climate and fire-regime conditions, careful fire and forest management considerations will be needed to limit future losses of persistent fire refugia forests.