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- Environmental Research Letters
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Impacts of pre-fire conifer density and wildfire severity on ecosystem structure and function at the forest-tundra ecotoneHui, Dafeng (Ed.)Wildfire frequency and extent is increasing throughout the boreal forest-tundra ecotone as climate warms. Understanding the impacts of wildfire throughout this ecotone is required to make predictions of the rate and magnitude of changes in boreal-tundra landcover, its future flammability, and associated feedbacks to the global carbon (C) cycle and climate. We studied 48 sites spanning a gradient from tundra to low-density spruce stands that were burned in an extensive 2013 wildfire on the north slope of the Alaska Range in Denali National Park and Preserve, central Alaska. We assessed wildfire severity and C emissions, and determined the impacts of severity on understory vegetation composition, conifer tree recruitment, and active layer thickness (ALT). We also assessed conifer seed rain and used a seeding experiment to determine factors controlling post-fire tree regeneration. We found that an average of 2.18 ± 1.13 Kg C m -2 was emitted from this fire, almost 95% of which came from burning of the organic soil. On average, burn depth of the organic soil was 10.6 ± 4.5 cm and both burn depth and total C combusted increased with pre-fire conifer density. Sites with higher pre-fire conifer density were also located at warmer and drier landscapemore »
Climate change is expected to increase fire activity across the circumboreal zone, including central Siberia. However, few studies have quantitatively assessed potential changes in fire regime characteristics, or considered possible spatial variation in the magnitude of change. Moreover, while simulations indicate that changes in climate are likely to drive major shifts in Siberian vegetation, knowledge of future forest dynamics under the joint influence of changes in climate and fire regimes remains largely theoretical. We used the forest landscape model, LANDIS-II, with PnET-Succession and the BFOLDS fire extension to simulate changes in vegetation and fire regime characteristics under four alternative climate scenarios in three 10,000-km2study landscapes distributed across a large latitudinal gradient in lowland central Siberia. We evaluated vegetation change using the fire life history strategies adopted by forest tree species: fire resisters, fire avoiders, and fire endurers.
Annual burned area, the number of fires per year, fire size, and fire intensity all increased under climate change. The relative increase in fire activity was greatest in the northernmost study landscape, leading to a reduction in the difference in fire rotation period between study landscapes. Although the number of fires per year increased progressively with the magnitude of climate change, meanmore »
Our results imply that climate change will greatly increase fire activity and reduce spatial heterogeneity in fire regime characteristics across central Siberia. Potential ecological consequences include a widespread shift toward forests dominated by broadleaved deciduous species that employ a fire endurer strategy to persist in an increasingly fire-prone environment.
Vegetation response to wildfire and climate forcing in a Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forest over the past 2500 yearsWildfire is a ubiquitous disturbance agent in subalpine forests in western North America. Lodgepole pine ( Pinus contorta var. latifolia), a dominant tree species in these forests, is largely resilient to high-severity fires, but this resilience may be compromised under future scenarios of altered climate and fire activity. We investigated fire occurrence and post-fire vegetation change in a lodgepole pine forest over the past 2500 years to understand ecosystem responses to variability in wildfire and climate. We reconstructed vegetation composition from pollen preserved in a sediment core from Chickaree Lake, Colorado, USA (1.5-ha lake), in Rocky Mountain National Park, and compared vegetation change to an existing fire history record. Pollen samples ( n = 52) were analyzed to characterize millennial-scale and short-term (decadal-scale) changes in vegetation associated with multiple high-severity fire events. Pollen assemblages were dominated by Pinus throughout the record, reflecting the persistence of lodgepole pine. Wildfires resulted in significant declines in Pinus pollen percentages, but pollen assemblages returned to pre-fire conditions after 18 fire events, within c.75 years. The primary broad-scale change was an increase in Picea, Artemisia, Rosaceae, and Arceuthobium pollen types, around 1155 calibrated years before present. The timing of this change is coincident with changesmore »
Arctic and boreal paleofire records reveal drivers of fire activity and departures from Holocene variabilityBoreal forest and tundra biomes are key components of the Earth system because the mobilization of large carbon stocks and changes in energy balance could act as positive feedbacks to ongoing climate change. In Alaska, wildfire is a primary driver of ecosystem structure and function, and a key mechanism coupling high‐latitude ecosystems to global climate. Paleoecological records reveal sensitivity of fire regimes to climatic and vegetation change over centennial–millennial time scales, highlighting increased burning concurrent with warming or elevated landscape flammability. To quantify spatiotemporal patterns in fire‐regime variability, we synthesized 27 published sediment‐charcoal records from four Alaskan ecoregions, and compared patterns to paleoclimate and paleovegetation records. Biomass burning and fire frequency increased significantly in boreal forest ecoregions with the expansion of black spruce, ca. 6,000–4,000 years before present (yr BP). Biomass burning also increased during warm periods, particularly in the Yukon Flats ecoregion from ca. 1,000 to 500 yr BP. Increases in biomass burning concurrent with constant fire return intervals suggest increases in average fire severity (i.e., more biomass burning per fire) during warm periods. Results also indicate increases in biomass burning over the last century across much of Alaska that exceed Holocene maxima, providing important context for ongoing change.more »
Research Highlights: Flammability of wildland fuels is a key factor influencing risk-based decisions related to preparedness, response, and safety in Alaska. However, without effective measures of current and expected flammability, the expected likelihood of active and problematic wildfires in the future is difficult to assess and prepare for. This study evaluates the effectiveness of diverse indices to capture high-risk fires. Indicators of drought and atmospheric drivers are assessed along with the operational Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS). Background and Objectives: In this study, 13 different indicators of atmospheric conditions, fuel moisture, and flammability are compared to determine how effective each is at identifying thresholds and trends for significant wildfire activity. Materials and Methods: Flammability indices are compared with remote sensing characterizations that identify where and when fire activity has occurred. Results: Among these flammability indicators, conventional tools calibrated to wildfire thresholds (Duff Moisture Code (DMC) and Buildup Index (BUI)), as well as measures of atmospheric forcing (Vapor Pressure Deficit (VPD)), performed best at representing the conditions favoring initiation and size of significant wildfire events. Conventional assessments of seasonal severity and overall landscape flammability using DMC and BUI can be continued with confidence. Fire models that incorporate BUI inmore »