Fire & Climate
Recovery after fire
Climate change resulting from increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide ([CO2]) is expected to result in warmer temperatures and changed precipitation regimes during this century. In the northwestern U.S., these changes will likely decrease snowpack, cause earlier snowmelt, increase summer evapotranspiration, and increase the frequency and severity of droughts. Elevated [CO2] and warmer temperatures may have positive effects on growth and productivity where there is adequate moisture or growth is currently limited by cold. However, the effects of climate change are generally expected to reduce growth and survival, predispose forests to disturbance by wildfire, insects, and disease; and ultimately change forest structure and composition at the landscape scale. Substantial warming will likely decrease winter chilling resulting in delayed bud burst, and adversely affect flowering and seed germination for some species. The extent of these effects will depend on the magnitude of climate change, the abilities of individual trees to acclimate, and for tree populations to adapt in situ, or to migrate to suitable habitats. These coping mechanisms may be insufficient to maintain optimal fitness of tree populations to rapidly changing climate. Physiological responses to climatic stresses are relatively well-understood at the organ or whole-plant scale but not at the stand or landscape scale. In particular, the interactive effects of multiple stressors is not well known. Genetic and silvicultural approaches to increase adaptive capacities and to decrease climate-related vulnerabilities of forests can be based on ecophysiological knowledge. Effective approaches to climate adaptation will likely include assisted migration of species and populations, and density management. Use of these approaches to increase forest resistance and resilience at the landscape scale requires a better understanding of species adaptations, within-species genetic variation, and the mitigating effects of silvicultural treatments.