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Twenty years after the 1988 Yellowstone fires: lessons about disturbance and ecosystems

Author(s): William H. Romme, Mark S. Boyce, Robert E. Gresswell, Evelyn H. Merrill, G. Wayne Minshall, Cathy L. Whitlock, Monica G. Turner
Year Published: 2011

The 1988 Yellowstone fires were among the first in what has proven to be an upsurge in large severe fires in the western USA during the past 20 years. At the time of the fires, little was known about the impacts of such a large severe disturbance because scientists had had few previous opportunities to study such an event. Ecologists predicted short- and long-term effects of the 1988 fires on vegetation, biogeochemistry, primary productivity, wildlife, and aquatic ecosystems based on scientific understanding of the time. Twenty-plus years of subsequent study allow these early predictions to be evaluated. Most of the original predictions were at least partially supported, but some predictions were refuted, others nuanced, and a few postfire phenomena were entirely unexpected. Post-1988 Yellowstone studies catalyzed advances in ecology focused on the importance of spatial and temporal heterogeneity, contingent influences, and multiple interacting drivers. Post-1988 research in Yellowstone also has changed public perceptions of fire as an ecological process and attitudes towards fire management. Looking ahead to projected climate change and more frequent large fires, the well-documented ecological responses to the 1988 Yellowstone fires provide a foundation for detecting and evaluating potential changes in fire regimes of temperate mountainous regions.

Citation: Romme, William H.; Boyce, Mark S.; Gresswell, Robert; Merrill, Evelyn H.; Minshall, G. Wayne; Whitlock, Cathy; Turner, Monica G. 2011. Twenty years after the 1988 Yellowstone fires: lessons about disturbance and ecosystems. Ecosystems. 14(7): 1196-1215.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 8308
FRAMES RCS number: 11727
Record updated: Apr 23, 2018