Home
A JFSP Fire Science Exchange Network
Bringing People Together & Sharing Knowledge in the Northern Rockies

Vegetation response to wildfire and climate forcing in a Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forest over the past 2500 years

Author(s): Barrie V. Chileen, Kendra K. McLauchlan, Philip E. Higuera, Meredith Parish, Bryan N. Shuman
Year Published: 2020
Description:

Wildfire is a ubiquitous disturbance agent in subalpine forests in western North America. Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia), a dominant tree species in these forests, is largely resilient to high-severity fires, but this resilience may be compromised under future scenarios of altered climate and fire activity. We investigated fire occurrence and post-fire vegetation change in a lodgepole pine forest over the past 2500 years to understand ecosystem responses to variability in wildfire and climate. We reconstructed vegetation composition from pollen preserved in a sediment core from Chickaree Lake, Colorado, USA (1.5-ha lake), in Rocky Mountain National Park, and compared vegetation change to an existing fire history record. Pollen samples (n = 52) were analyzed to characterize millennial-scale and short-term (decadal-scale) changes in vegetation associated with multiple high-severity fire events. Pollen assemblages were dominated by Pinus throughout the record, reflecting the persistence of lodgepole pine. Wildfires resulted in significant declines in Pinus pollen percentages, but pollen assemblages returned to pre-fire conditions after 18 fire events, within c.75 years. The primary broad-scale change was an increase in Picea, Artemisia, Rosaceae, and Arceuthobium pollen types, around 1155 calibrated years before present. The timing of this change is coincident with changes in regional pollen records, and a shift toward wetter winter conditions identified from regional paleoclimate records. Our results indicate the overall stability of vegetation in Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forests during climate changes and repeated high-severity fires. Contemporary deviations from this pattern of resilience could indicate future recovery challenges in these ecosystems.

Citation: Chileen, Barrie V.; McLauchlan, Kendra K.; Higuera, Philip E.; Parish, Meredith; Shuman, Bryan N. 2020. Vegetation response to wildfire and climate forcing in a Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forest over the past 2500 years. The Holocene 30(11):1493-1503. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959683620941068
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Fire Effects, Fire History, Fire & Climate
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22282
FRAMES RCS number: 62183
Record updated: Dec 8, 2020