Canadian Forest Service Publications

Contributions of fire refugia to resilient ponderosa pine and dry mixed‐conifer forest landscapes. Coop, J. D., DeLory, T. J., Downing, W. M., Haire, S. L., Krawchuk, M. -A., Miller, C., Parisien, M.A.,& Walker, R. B. (2019). Ecosphere, 10(7), e02809.

Year: 2019

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 40277

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2809

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Abstract

Altered fire regimes can drive major and enduring compositional shifts or losses of forest ecosystems. In western North America, ponderosa pine and dry mixed‐conifer forest types appear increasingly vulnerable to uncharacteristically extensive, high‐severity wildfire. However, unburned or only lightly impacted forest stands that persist within burn mosaics—termed fire refugia—may serve as tree seed sources and promote landscape recovery. We sampled tree regeneration along gradients of fire refugia proximity and density at 686 sites within the perimeters of 12 large wildfires that occurred between 2000 and 2005 in the interior western United States. We used generalized linear mixed‐effects models to elucidate statistical relationships between tree regeneration and refugia pattern, including a new metric that incorporates patch proximity and proportional abundance. These relationships were then used to develop a spatially explicit landscape simulation model. We found that regeneration by ponderosa pine and obligate‐seeding mixed‐conifer tree species assemblages was strongly and positively predicted by refugia proximity and density. Simulation models revealed that for any given proportion of the landscape occupied by refugia, small patches produced greater landscape recovery than large patches. These results highlight the disproportionate importance of small, isolated islands of surviving trees, which may not be detectable with coarse‐scale satellite imagery. Findings also illustrate the interplay between patch‐scale resistance and landscape‐scale resilience: Disturbance‐resistant settings (fire refugia) can entrain resilience (forest regeneration) across the burn matrix. Implications and applications for land managers and conservation practitioners include strategies for the promotion and maintenance of fire refugia as components of resilient forest landscapes.

Plain Language Summary

In western North America, ponderosa pine and dry mixed-conifer forest types appear increasingly vulnerable to extensive, high-severity wildfire. Unburned or only lightly impacted forest stands (fire refugia) may serve as tree seed sources and promote landscape recovery. We sampled tree regeneration of fire refugia at 686 sites of 12 large wildfires that occurred between 2000 and 2005 in interior western United States. We analyzed relationships between tree regeneration and refugia pattern. These relationships were then used to develop a landscape simulation model. Simulation models revealed that for any given proportion of the landscape occupied by refugia, small patches produced greater landscape recovery than large patches. These results highlight the importance of small, isolated islands of surviving trees. Implications and applications for land managers and conservation practitioners include strategies for the promotion and maintenance of fire refugia.