Spatial patterns of nineteenth century fire severity persist after fire exclusion and a twenty-first century wildfire in a mixed conifer forest landscape, Southern Cascades, USA

Alan H. Taylor, Catherine Airey-Lauvaux, Becky Estes, Lucas Harris, Carl N. Skinner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Context: Spatial patterns of fire severity are influenced by fire-vegetation patch dynamics and topography. Since the late nineteenth century, fire exclusion has increased fuels and recent fire severity patterns may diverge from historical patterns. Objectives: We used data from a 2008 wildfire burning in a landscape with known nineteenth century fire severity patterns to answer the following questions: (1) Were the spatial patterns of fire severity and fire effects after the 2008 fire similar to those in the late nineteenth century? (2) What factors were most important in controlling spatial patterns of fire severity in 2008? Methods: Fire severity patterns in the late nineteenth century were identified by Beaty and Taylor (J Veg Sci 18:879, 2001) using dendroecology. Plots were remeasured after the 2008 fire and geospatial layers of vegetation type, topography, fire weather, daily fire extent and fire severity were used to identify controls on 2008 fire severity. Results: Fire severity in 2008 varied in ways similar to the nineteenth century. Tree mortality and bark char in plots were lowest on lower slopes and southwest facing slopes, intermediate on middle slopes, and highest on upper slopes and northeast slopes. At the landscape scale, vegetation type, elevation, slope aspect, slope position and weather were the variables controlling fire severity. Conclusions: Spatial patterns of fire severity persisted, despite more than a century of fire exclusion. Our findings suggest that wildfires burning under moderate conditions even with a warming climate can help reduce the fire deficit and promote forest resilience in fire prone landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2777-2790
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Volume35
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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