Canadian Forest Service Publications

Exploring the role of fire, succession, climate, and weather on landscape dynamics using comparative modeling. 2013. Keane, R.E.; Cary, G.J.; Flannigan, M.D.; Parsons, R.A.; Davies, I.D.; King, K.J.; Li, C.; Bradstock, R.A.; Gill, M. Ecological Modelling 266(2013):172-186.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35151

Language: English

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Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2013.06.020

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An assessment of the relative importance of vegetation change and disturbance as agents of landscape change under current and future climates would (1) provide insight into the controls of landscape dynamics,(2) help inform the design and development of coarse scale spatially explicit ecosystem models such as Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs), and (3) guide future land management and planning. However, quantification of landscape change from vegetation development and disturbance effects is difficult because of the large space and long time scales involved. Comparative simulation modeling experiments, using a suite of models to simulate a set of scenarios, can provide a platform for investigating landscape change over more ecologically appropriate time and space scales that control vegetation and disturbance. We implemented a multifactorial simulation experiment using five landscape fire succession models to explore the role of fire and vegetation development under various climates on a neutral landscape. The simulation experiment had four factors with two or three treatments each: (1) fire (fire and no fire), (2) succession (dynamic and static succession), (3) climate (historical, warm-wet, warm-dry), and (4) weather (constant, variable). We found that, under historical climates, succession changed more area annually than fire by factors of 1.2 to 34, but one model simulated more landscape change from fire (factor of 0.1). However, we also found that fire becomes more important in warmer future climates with factors decreasing to below zero for most models. We also found that there were few differences in simulation results between weather scenarios with low or high variability. Results from this study show that there will be a shift from vegetation processes that control today’s landscape dynamics to fire processes under future warmer and drier climates, and this shift means that detailed representations of both succession and fire should be incorporated into models to realistically simulate interactions between disturbance and vegetation.

Plain Language Summary

This paper is probably the last in a series of comparative modeling research experiments conducted since early 2000s by an international forest fire modeling working group under the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems. The researchers explored the potential changes to landscape resulting from interactions among forest vegetation, fire, climate, and weather variables, using computer simulations. The goal of such research is to understand whether these detailed landscape dynamics should be included in scientific models used internationally to address global issues such as effects of climate change. The experiment reported in this paper simulated many scenarios to investigate these dynamics. Results confirmed the important role of wildfires and natural changes in vegetation over time (succession) in landscape dynamics. Researchers concluded that there is no simple method of determining which of these has more influence on landscape dynamics because history of disturbances such as fires, biophysical context, and climate also play important roles. Thus, the researchers suggest that both succession and fire should be included in international models of landscape dynamics, leading to improved management of global landscapes in future climates.