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Spatial scale in prescribed fire regimes: an understudied aspect in conservation with examples from the southeastern United States

Author(s): David Mason, Marcus A. Lashley
Year Published: 2021

The idea that not all fire regimes are created equal is a central theme in fire research and conservation. Fire frequency (i.e., temporal scale) is likely the most studied fire regime attribute as it relates to conservation of fireadapted ecosystems. Generally, research converges on fire frequency as the primary filter in plant community assembly and structure, which is often critical to conservation goals. Thus, conservation success is commonly linked to fire frequency in fire regimes.

The spatial scale of fire may also be vital to conservation outcomes, but this attribute is underrepresented in the primary literature. In our global, contemporary literature search, we found 37 published syntheses concerning the effects of prescribed fire in conservation over the last decade. In those syntheses, only 16% included studies that reported data-based inferences related to the spatial scale of the fire, whereas 73% included discussion of empirical studies on the temporal scale. Only one of the syntheses discussed studies that explicitly tested the effects of spatial extent, and none of those studies were experiments manipulating spatial scale. Further, understanding spatial-scale-dependent patterns may be relevant because two databases of fire-occurrence data from the United States indicated that spatial scale among lightning-ignited and prescribed fires may have been mismatched over the past few decades.

Based on a rich ecological literature base that demonstrates pervasive scale-dependent effects in ecology, spatialscale- dependent relationships among prescribed fire regimes and conservation outcomes are likely. Using examples from the southeastern United States, we explored the potential for scale-dependent ecological effects of fire. In particular, we highlighted the potential for spatial scale to (a) influence wildlife populations by manipulating the dispersion of habitat components, and (b) modulate plant community assembly and structure by affecting seed dispersal mechanics and spatial patterns in herbivory. Because spatial-scale-dependent outcomes are understudied but likely occurring, we encourage researchers to address the ecological effects of spatial scale in prescribed-fire regimes using comparative and manipulative approaches.

Citation: Mason DS and Lashley MA. 2021. Spatial scale in prescribed fire regimes: an understudied aspect in conservation with examples from the southeastern United States. Fire Ecology V17 Article 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-020-00087-9
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Fire Regime, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity, Fire Return Intervals, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22527
Record updated: Feb 2, 2021