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  1. Abstract Increasing fire impacts across North America are associated with climate and vegetation change, greater exposure through development expansion, and less-well studied but salient social vulnerabilities. We are at a critical moment in the contemporary human-fire relationship, with an urgent need to transition from emergency response to proactive measures that build sustainable communities, protect human health, and restore the use of fire necessary for maintaining ecosystem processes. We propose an integrated risk factor that includes fire and smoke hazard, exposure, and vulnerability as a method to identify ‘fires that matter’, that is, fires that have potentially devastating impacts on our communities. This approach enables pathways to delineate and prioritise science-informed planning strategies most likely to increase community resilience to fires.
  2. Fire-prone invasive grasses create novel ecosystem threats by increasing fine-fuel loads and continuity, which can alter fire regimes. While the existence of an invasive grass-fire cycle is well known, evidence of altered fire regimes is typically based on local-scale studies or expert knowledge. Here, we quantify the effects of 12 nonnative, invasive grasses on fire occurrence, size, and frequency across 29 US ecoregions encompassing more than one third of the conterminous United States. These 12 grass species promote fire locally and have extensive spatial records of abundant infestations. We combined agency and satellite fire data with records of abundant grass invasion to test for differences in fire regimes between invaded and nearby “uninvaded” habitat. Additionally, we assessed whether invasive grass presence is a significant predictor of altered fire by modeling fire occurrence, size, and frequency as a function of grass invasion, in addition to anthropogenic and ecological covariates relevant to fire. Eight species showed significantly higher fire-occurrence rates, which more than tripled for Schismus barbatus and Pennisetum ciliare. Six species demonstrated significantly higher mean fire frequency, which more than doubled for Neyraudia reynaudiana and Pennisetum ciliare . Grass invasion was significant in fire occurrence and frequency models, but not inmore »fire-size models. The significant differences in fire regimes, coupled with the importance of grass invasion in modeling these differences, suggest that invasive grasses alter US fire regimes at regional scales. As concern about US wildfires grows, accounting for fire-promoting invasive grasses will be imperative for effectively managing ecosystems.« less
  3. Abstract Fire is an integral component of ecosystems globally and a tool that humans have harnessed for millennia. Altered fire regimes are a fundamental cause and consequence of global change, impacting people and the biophysical systems on which they depend. As part of the newly emerging Anthropocene, marked by human-caused climate change and radical changes to ecosystems, fire danger is increasing, and fires are having increasingly devastating impacts on human health, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. Increasing fire danger is a vexing problem that requires deep transdisciplinary, trans-sector, and inclusive partnerships to address. Here, we outline barriers and opportunities in the next generation of fire science and provide guidance for investment in future research. We synthesize insights needed to better address the long-standing challenges of innovation across disciplines to (i) promote coordinated research efforts; (ii) embrace different ways of knowing and knowledge generation; (iii) promote exploration of fundamental science; (iv) capitalize on the “firehose” of data for societal benefit; and (v) integrate human and natural systems into models across multiple scales. Fire science is thus at a critical transitional moment. We need to shift from observation and modeled representations of varying components of climate, people, vegetation, and fire to more integrativemore »and predictive approaches that support pathways towards mitigating and adapting to our increasingly flammable world, including the utilization of fire for human safety and benefit. Only through overcoming institutional silos and accessing knowledge across diverse communities can we effectively undertake research that improves outcomes in our more fiery future.« less
  4. Abstract

    Non‐native, invasiveBromus tectorum(cheatgrass) is pervasive in sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin ecoregion of the western United States, competing with native plants and promoting more frequent fires. As a result, cheatgrass invasion likely alters carbon (C) storage in the region. Many studies have measured C pools in one or more common vegetation types: native sagebrush, invaded sagebrush and cheatgrass‐dominated (often burned) sites, but these results have yet to be synthesized.

    We performed a literature review to identify studies assessing the consequences of invasion on C storage in above‐ground biomass (AGB), below‐ground biomass (BGB), litter, organic soil and total soil. We identified 41 articles containing 386 unique studies and estimated C storage across pools and vegetation types. We used linear mixed models to identify the main predictors of C storage.

    We found consistent declines in biomass C with invasion: AGB C was 55% lower in cheatgrass (40 ± 4 g C/m2) than native sagebrush (89 ± 27 g C/m2) and BGB C was 62% lower in cheatgrass (90 ± 17 g C/m2) than native sagebrush (238 ± 60 g C/m2). In contrast, litter C was >4× higher in cheatgrass (154 ± 12 g C/m2) than native sagebrush (32 ± 12 g C/m2). Soil organic C (SOC) in the top 10 cm was significantly higher in cheatgrass than in native or invaded sagebrush. SOC below 20 cm was significantlymore »related to the time since most recent fire and losses were observed in deep SOC in cheatgrass >5 years after a fire. There were no significant changes in total soil C across vegetation types.

    Synthesis and applications. Cheatgrass invasion decreases biodiversity and rangeland productivity and alters fire regimes. Our findings indicate cheatgrass invasion also results in persistent biomass carbon (C) losses that occur with sagebrush replacement. We estimate that conversion from native sagebrush to cheatgrass leads to a net reduction of C storage in biomass and litter of 76 g C/m2, or 16 Tg C across the Great Basin without management practices like native sagebrush restoration or cheatgrass removal.

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  5. Abstract

    Losses from natural hazards are escalating dramatically, with more properties and critical infrastructure affected each year. Although the magnitude, intensity, and/or frequency of certain hazards has increased, development contributes to this unsustainable trend, as disasters emerge when natural disturbances meet vulnerable assets and populations. To diagnose development patterns leading to increased exposure in the conterminous United States (CONUS), we identified earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, and wildfire hazard hotspots, and overlaid them with land use information from the Historical Settlement Data Compilation data set. Our results show that 57% of structures (homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings, etc.) are located in hazard hotspots, which represent only a third of CONUS area, and ∼1.5 million buildings lie in hotspots for two or more hazards. These critical levels of exposure are the legacy of decades of sustained growth and point to our inability, lack of knowledge, or unwillingness to limit development in hazardous zones. Development in these areas is still growing more rapidly than the baseline rates for the nation, portending larger future losses even if the effects of climate change are not considered.

  6. Abstract

    It is a critical time to reflect on the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) science to date as well as envision what research can be done right now with NEON (and other) data and what training is needed to enable a diverse user community. NEON became fully operational in May 2019 and has pivoted from planning and construction to operation and maintenance. In this overview, the history of and foundational thinking around NEON are discussed. A framework of open science is described with a discussion of how NEON can be situated as part of a larger data constellation—across existing networks and different suites of ecological measurements and sensors. Next, a synthesis of early NEON science, based on >100 existing publications, funded proposal efforts, and emergent science at the very first NEON Science Summit (hosted by Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder in October 2019) is provided. Key questions that the ecology community will address with NEON data in the next 10 yr are outlined, from understanding drivers of biodiversity across spatial and temporal scales to defining complex feedback mechanisms in human–environmental systems. Last, the essential elements needed to engage and support a diverse and inclusive NEON user communitymore »are highlighted: training resources and tools that are openly available, funding for broad community engagement initiatives, and a mechanism to share and advertise those opportunities. NEON users require both the skills to work with NEON data and the ecological or environmental science domain knowledge to understand and interpret them. This paper synthesizes early directions in the community’s use of NEON data, and opportunities for the next 10 yr of NEON operations in emergent science themes, open science best practices, education and training, and community building.

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