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Are plant community responses to wildfire contingent upon historical disturbance regimes?

Author(s): Jesse E. D. Miller, Hugh Safford
Year Published: 2020

Background: Ecological disturbance is a major driver of ecosystem structure and evolutionary selection, and theory predicts that the frequency and/or intensity of disturbance should determine its effects on communities. However, adaptations of species pools to different historical disturbance regimes are rarely considered in the search for generalizable community responses to disturbance. To explore how the severity of disturbance affects plant diversity patterns, we review studies of understorey plant community responses to wildfire in conifer forests of western North America across a gradient of departure from historical fire regimes.

Review findings: We find that post‐fire plant species richness may generally be maximized at disturbance severities that match the predominant historical disturbance regime in a given ecosystem. Studies that examined multiple spatial scales indicate that plant community responses to fire are likely to be scale dependent, suggesting that post‐disturbance monitoring should consider community responses at multiple scales.

Synthesis: Our review highlights that consideration of historical disturbance regimes might improve the ability to predict the effects of disturbance on communities. We discuss future research needs; quantitative studies that compare community responses to fire at multiple scales across different historical fire regimes would be particularly useful. Ultimately, consideration of disturbance as a multivariate problem is likely to lead to greater inference than traditional bivariate approaches.

Citation: Miller, Jesse E.D.; Safford, Hugh D. 2020. Are plant community responses to wildfire contingent upon historical disturbance regimes? Global Ecology and Biogeography 29(10):1621-1633. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13115|
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Fire Effects, Fire History, Fire & Climate
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22134
FRAMES RCS number: 61546
Record updated: Nov 4, 2020