Climate change models for California's Sierra Nevada predict greater inter-annual variability in precipitation over the next 50 years. These increases in precipitation variability coupled with increases in nitrogen deposition from fossil fuel consumption are likely to result in increased productivity levels and significant increases in forest understory fuel loads. Higher understory plant biomass contributes to fuel connectivity and may increase future fire size and severity in the Sierra Nevada. The objective of this research was to develop and test a model to determine how changing precipitation and nitrogen deposition levels affect shrub and herb biomass production, and to determine how often prescribed fire would be needed to counter increasing fuel loads. Model outputs indicate that under an increasing precipitation scenario significant increases in shrub and herb biomass occur that can be counteracted by decreasing the fire return interval to 10 years. Under a scenario with greater inter-annual variability in precipitation and increased nitrogen deposition, implementing fire treatments at an interval equivalent to the historical range of 15-30 years maintains understory vegetation fuel loads at levels comparable to the control.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecological Modeling