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  1. Abstract

    Conifer forest resilience may be threatened by increasing wildfire activity and compound disturbances in western North America. Fire refugia enhance forest resilience, yet may decline over time due to delayed mortality—a process that remains poorly understood at landscape and regional scales. To address this uncertainty, we used high‐resolution satellite imagery (5‐m pixel) to map and quantify delayed mortality of conifer tree cover between 1 and 5 years postfire, across 30 large wildfires that burned within three montane ecoregions in the western United States. We used statistical models to explore the influence of burn severity, topography, soils, and climate moisture deficit on delayed mortality. We estimate that delayed mortality reduced live conifer tree cover by 5%–25% at the fire perimeter scale and 12%–15% at the ecoregion scale. Remotely sensed burn severity (1‐year postfire) was the strongest predictor of delayed mortality, indicating patch‐level fire effects are a strong proxy for fire injury severity among surviving trees that eventually perish. Delayed mortality rates were further influenced by long‐term average and short‐term postfire climate moisture deficits, illustrating the impact of drought on fire‐injured tree survival. Our work demonstrates that delayed mortality in conifer forests of the western United States can be remotely quantified at a fine grain and landscape scale, is a spatially extensive phenomenon, is driven by fire–climate–environment interactions, and has important ecological implications.

     
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  2. Premise

    Fire scars on trees are created by excessive heat from a fire that kills the vascular cambium. Although, fires are one of the most important forest disturbances in Patagonia, the effects of fire on tree physiology and wood anatomy are still unknown. In this study, we hypothesized that abnormal functioning of the cambium after a fire will induce anatomical changes in the wood. We also assumed that these anatomical changes would affect xylem safety transport.

    Methods

    We quantified wood anatomical traits inNothofagus pumilio, the dominant subalpine tree species of Patagonia, using two approaches: time and distance. In the first, anatomical changes in tree rings were compared before, during, and after fire occurrence. In the second, the spatial extent of these changes was evaluated with respect to the wound by measuring anatomical traits in sampling bands in two directions (0° and 45°) with respect to the onset of healing.

    Results

    Reductions in lumen diameter and vessel number were the most conspicuous changes associated with fire damage and observed in the fire ring and subsequent post‐fire rings. In addition, the fire ring had more rays than in control rings. In terms of distance, anatomical changes were only restricted to short distances from the wound.

    Conclusions

    Post‐fire changes in wood anatomical traits were confined close to the wound margins. These changes might be associated with a defense strategy related to the compartmentalization of the wound and safety of water transport.

     
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  3. Abstract

    Untangling the nuanced relationships between landscape, fire disturbance, human agency, and climate is key to understanding rapid population declines of fire‐sensitive plant species. Using multiple lines of evidence across temporal and spatial scales (vegetation survey, stand structure analysis, dendrochronology, and fire history reconstruction), we document landscape‐scale population collapse of the long‐lived, endemic Tasmanian coniferAthrotaxis selaginoidesin remote montane catchments in southern Tasmania. We contextualized the findings of this field‐based study with a Tasmanian‐wide geospatial analysis of fire‐killed and unburned populations of the species. Population declines followed European colonization commencing in 1802 adthat disrupted Aboriginal landscape burning. Prior to European colonization, fire events were infrequent but frequency sharply increased afterwards. Dendrochronological analysis revealed that reconstructed fire years were associated with abnormally warm/dry conditions, with below‐average streamflow, and were strongly teleconnected to the Southern Annular Mode. The multiple fires that followed European colonization caused near total mortality ofA. selaginoidesand resulted in pronounced floristic, structural vegetation, and fuel load changes. Burned stands have very few regeneratingA. selaginoidesjuveniles yet tree‐establishment reconstruction of fire‐killed adults exhibited persistent recruitment in the period prior to European colonization. Collectively, our findings indicate that this fire‐sensitive Gondwanan conifer was able to persist with burning by Aboriginal Tasmanians, despite episodic widespread forest fires. By contrast, European burning led to the restriction ofA. selaginoidesto prime topographic fire refugia. Increasingly, frequent fires caused by regional dry and warming trends and increased ignitions by humans and lightning are breaching fire refugia; hence, the survival Tasmanian Gondwanan species demands sustained and targeted fire management.

     
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  4. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2025
  5. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  6. Infrequent stand-replacing wildfires are characteristic of mesic and/or cool conifer forests in western North America, where forest recovery within high-severity burn patch interiors can be slow, yet successful over long temporal periods (decades to centuries). Increasing fire frequency and high-severity burn patch size, under a warming climate, however, may challenge post-fire forest recovery, promoting landscape-level shifts in forest structure, composition, and distribution of non-forest patches. Crucial to a delay and/or impediment to this shift, fire refugia (i.e., remnant seed sources) may determine forest recovery trajectories and potential forest state-transitions. To examine how fire refugia attributes (i.e. extent, composition, and structure) interact with local climate and environmental conditions to determine post-fire forest recovery responses, we developed fine-grain maps of fire refugia via remote sensing and conducted field-based assessment of post-fire conifer tree establishment largely originating (i.e., dispersed) from fire refugium in the Central Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest United States. We found that limitations on seed availability, represented by the distance 2 -weighted density (D 2 WD) of fine-grain refugia extent, largely explained post-fire tree establishment responses within our relatively mesic and cool subalpine study sites. Interactions between seed availability, climate, and environmental conditions indicated that the structural attributes of refugia (e.g., tree height) and site abiotic/biotic environmental controls (e.g., climate water deficit, canopy cover, and coarse woody debris cover) interplayed to constrain or enhance species-specific tree establishment responses. Importantly, these interactions illustrate that when seed availability is critically low for a given area, climate-environment conditions may strongly determine whether forests recover following fire(s). Toward modelling and predicting tree establishment responses and potential forest state-transitions after large stand-replacing fires(s), our study demonstrates the importance of accurately quantifying seed availability via the fine-grain extent, configuration, and attributes of remnant seed source legacies. 
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  7. Nearly 0.8 million hectares of land were burned in the North American Pacific Northwest (PNW) over two weeks under record-breaking fuel aridity and winds during the extraordinary 2020 fire season, representing a rare example of megafires in forests west of the Cascade Mountains. We quantified the relative influence of weather, vegetation, and topography on patterns of high burn severity (>75% tree mortality) among five synchronous megafires in the western Cascade Mountains. Despite the conventional wisdom in climate-limited fire regimes that regional drivers (e.g., extreme aridity, and synoptic winds) overwhelm local controls on vegetation mortality patterns (e.g., vegetation structure and topography), we hypothesized that local controls remain important influences on burn severity patterns in these rugged forested landscapes. To study these influences, we developed remotely sensed fire extent and burn severity maps for two distinct weather periods, thereby isolating the effect of extreme east winds on drivers of burn severity. Our results confirm that wind was the major driver of the 2020 megafires, but also that both vegetation structure and topography significantly affect burn severity patterns even under extreme fuel aridity and winds. Early-seral forests primarily concentrated on private lands, burned more severely than their older and taller counterparts, over the entire megafire event regardless of topography. Meanwhile, mature stands burned severely only under extreme winds and especially on steeper slopes. Although climate change and land-use legacies may prime temperate rainforests to burn more frequently and at higher severities than has been historically observed, our work suggests that future high-severity megafires are only likely to occur during coinciding periods of heat, fuel aridity, and extreme winds. 
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