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  1. Abstract

    Increased wildfire activity combined with warm and dry post-fire conditions may undermine the mechanisms maintaining forest resilience to wildfires, potentially causing ecosystem transitions, or fire-catalyzed vegetation shifts. Stand-replacing fire is especially likely to catalyze vegetation shifts expected from climate change, by killing mature trees that are less sensitive to climate than juveniles. To understand the vulnerability of forests to fire-catalyzed vegetation shifts it is critical to identify both where fires will burn with stand-replacing severity and where climate conditions limit seedling recruitment. We used an extensive dendrochronological dataset to model the influence of seasonal climate on post-fire recruitment probability for ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir. We applied this model to project annual recruitment probability in the US intermountain west under contemporary and future climate conditions, which we compared to modeled probability of stand-replacing fire. We categorized areas as ‘vulnerable to fire-catalyzed vegetation shifts,’ if they were likely to burn at stand-replacing severity, if a fire were to occur, and had post-fire climate conditions unsuitable for tree recruitment. Climate suitability for recruitment declined over time in all ecoregions: 21% and 15% of the range of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir, respectively, had climate conditions unsuitable for recruitment in the 1980s, whereas these values increased to 61% (ponderosa pine) and 34% (Douglas-fir) for the future climate scenario. Less area was vulnerable to fire-catalyzed vegetation shifts, but these values also increased over time, from 6% and 4% of the range of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir in the 1980s, to 16% (ponderosa pine) and 10% (Douglas-fir) under the future climate scenario. Southern ecoregions had considerably higher vulnerability to fire-catalyzed vegetation shifts than northern ecoregions. Overall, our results suggest that the combination of climate warming and an increase in wildfire activity may substantially impact species distributions through fire-catalyzed vegetation shifts.

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  2. Climate change is increasing fire activity in the western United States, which has the potential to accelerate climate-induced shifts in vegetation communities. Wildfire can catalyze vegetation change by killing adult trees that could otherwise persist in climate conditions no longer suitable for seedling establishment and survival. Recently documented declines in postfire conifer recruitment in the western United States may be an example of this phenomenon. However, the role of annual climate variation and its interaction with long-term climate trends in driving these changes is poorly resolved. Here we examine the relationship between annual climate and postfire tree regeneration of two dominant, low-elevation conifers (ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir) using annually resolved establishment dates from 2,935 destructively sampled trees from 33 wildfires across four regions in the western United States. We show that regeneration had a nonlinear response to annual climate conditions, with distinct thresholds for recruitment based on vapor pressure deficit, soil moisture, and maximum surface temperature. At dry sites across our study region, seasonal to annual climate conditions over the past 20 years have crossed these thresholds, such that conditions have become increasingly unsuitable for regeneration. High fire severity and low seed availability further reduced the probability of postfire regeneration. Together, our results demonstrate that climate change combined with high severity fire is leading to increasingly fewer opportunities for seedlings to establish after wildfires and may lead to ecosystem transitions in low-elevation ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests across the western United States.

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  3. The longleaf pine ( Pinus palustris Mill.) and related ecosystem is an icon of the southeastern United States (US). Once covering an estimated 37 million ha from Texas to Florida to Virginia, the near-extirpation of, and subsequent restoration efforts for, the species has been well-documented over the past ca. 100 years. Although longleaf pine is one of the longest-lived tree species in the southeastern US—with documented ages of over 400 years—its use has not been reviewed in the field of dendrochronology. In this paper, we review the utility of longleaf pine tree-ring data within the applications of four primary, topical research areas: climatology and paleoclimate reconstruction, fire history, ecology, and archeology/cultural studies. Further, we highlight knowledge gaps in these topical areas, for which we introduce the Longleaf Tree-Ring Network (LTRN). The overarching purpose of the LTRN is to coalesce partners and data to expand the scientific use of longleaf pine tree-ring data across the southeastern US. As a first example of LTRN analytics, we show that the development of seasonwood chronologies (earlywood width, latewood width, and total width) enhances the utility of longleaf pine tree-ring data, indicating the value of these seasonwood metrics for future studies. We find that at 21 sites distributed across the species’ range, latewood width chronologies outperform both their earlywood and total width counterparts in mean correlation coefficient (RBAR = 0.55, 0.46, 0.52, respectively). Strategic plans for increasing the utility of longleaf pine dendrochronology in the southeastern US include [1] saving remnant material ( e.g., stumps, logs, and building construction timbers) from decay, extraction, and fire consumption to help extend tree-ring records, and [2] developing new chronologies in LTRN spatial gaps to facilitate broad-scale analyses of longleaf pine ecosystems within the context of the topical groups presented.

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  4. Abstract Aim

    Climate warming is increasing fire activity in many of Earth’s forested ecosystems. Because fire is a catalyst for change, investigation of post‐fire vegetation response is critical to understanding the potential for future conversions from forest to non‐forest vegetation types. We characterized the influences of climate and terrain on post‐fire tree regeneration and assessed how these biophysical factors might shape future vulnerability to wildfire‐driven forest conversion.


    Montane forests, Rocky Mountains, USA.

    Time period


    Taxa studied

    Pinus ponderosa;Pseudotsuga menziesii.


    We developed a database of dendrochronological samples (n = 717) and plots (n = 1,301) in post‐fire environments spanning a range of topoclimatic settings. We then used statistical models to predict annual post‐fire seedling establishment suitability and total post‐fire seedling abundance from a suite of biophysical correlates. Finally, we reconstructed recent trends in post‐fire recovery and projected future dynamics using three general circulation models (GCMs) under moderate and extreme CO2emission scenarios.


    Though growing season (April–September) precipitation during the recent period (1981–2015) was positively associated with suitability for post‐fire tree seedling establishment, future (2021–2099) trends in precipitation were widely variable among GCMs, leading to mixed projections of future establishment suitability. In contrast, climatic water deficit (CWD), which is indicative of warm, dry conditions, was negatively associated with post‐fire seedling abundance during the recent period and was projected to increase throughout the southern Rocky Mountains in the future. Our findings suggest that future increases in CWD and an increased frequency of extreme drought years will substantially reduce post‐fire seedling densities.

    Main conclusions

    This study highlights the key roles of warming and drying in declining forest resilience to wildfire. Moisture stress, driven by macroclimate and topographic setting, will interact with wildfire activity to shape future vegetation patterns throughout the southern Rocky Mountains, USA.

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  5. Abstract

    Forest resilience to climate change is a global concern given the potential effects of increased disturbance activity, warming temperatures and increased moisture stress on plants. We used a multi‐regional dataset of 1485 sites across 52 wildfires from the US Rocky Mountains to ask if and how changing climate over the last several decades impacted post‐fire tree regeneration, a key indicator of forest resilience. Results highlight significant decreases in tree regeneration in the 21st century. Annual moisture deficits were significantly greater from 2000 to 2015 as compared to 1985–1999, suggesting increasingly unfavourable post‐fire growing conditions, corresponding to significantly lower seedling densities and increased regeneration failure. Dry forests that already occur at the edge of their climatic tolerance are most prone to conversion to non‐forests after wildfires. Major climate‐induced reduction in forest density and extent has important consequences for a myriad of ecosystem services now and in the future.

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