Ecosystems

, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 797–808 | Cite as

Interactions Across Spatial Scales among Forest Dieback, Fire, and Erosion in Northern New Mexico Landscapes

Article

Abstract

Ecosystem patterns and disturbance processes at one spatial scale often interact with processes at another scale, and the result of such cross-scale interactions can be nonlinear dynamics with thresholds. Examples of cross-scale pattern-process relationships and interactions among forest dieback, fire, and erosion are illustrated from northern New Mexico (USA) landscapes, where long-term studies have recently documented all of these disturbance processes. For example, environmental stress, operating on individual trees, can cause tree death that is amplified by insect mortality agents to propagate to patch and then landscape or even regional-scale forest dieback. Severe drought and unusual warmth in the southwestern USA since the late 1990s apparently exceeded species-specific physiological thresholds for multiple tree species, resulting in substantial vegetation mortality across millions of hectares of woodlands and forests in recent years. Predictions of forest dieback across spatial scales are constrained by uncertainties associated with: limited knowledge of species-specific physiological thresholds; individual and site-specific variation in these mortality thresholds; and positive feedback loops between rapidly-responding insect herbivore populations and their stressed plant hosts, sometimes resulting in nonlinear “pest” outbreak dynamics. Fire behavior also exhibits nonlinearities across spatial scales, illustrated by changes in historic fire regimes where patch-scale grazing disturbance led to regional-scale collapse of surface fire activity and subsequent recent increases in the scale of extreme fire events in New Mexico. Vegetation dieback interacts with fire activity by modifying fuel amounts and configurations at multiple spatial scales. Runoff and erosion processes are also subject to scale-dependent threshold behaviors, exemplified by ecohydrological work in semiarid New Mexico watersheds showing how declines in ground surface cover lead to non-linear increases in bare patch connectivity and thereby accelerated runoff and erosion at hillslope and watershed scales. Vegetation dieback, grazing, and fire can change land surface properties and cross-scale hydrologic connectivities, directly altering ecohydrological patterns of runoff and erosion. The interactions among disturbance processes across spatial scales can be key drivers in ecosystem dynamics, as illustrated by these studies of recent landscape changes in northern New Mexico. To better anticipate and mitigate accelerating human impacts to the planetary ecosystem at all spatial scales, improvements are needed in our conceptual and quantitative understanding of cross-scale interactions among disturbance processes.

Key words:

disturbance interactions; forest dieback; fire erosion; fire history; cross-scale relationships; thresholds; New Mexico; southwestern USA 

REFERENCES

  1. Allen CD. (1989) Changes in the landscape of the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico. Ph.D. dissertation, Berkeley: University of California. 346pGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen CD (2002) Lots of lightning and plenty of people: an ecological history of fire in the upland Southwest. In: Vale TR, ed. Fire, native peoples, and the natural landscape. Covelo: Island Press. p 143–93Google Scholar
  3. Allen CD, Breshears DD (1998) Drought-induced shift of a forest-woodland ecotone: rapid landscape response to climate variation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 95:14839–42PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allen CD, Savage M, Falk DA, Suckling KF, Swetnam TW, Schulke T, Stacey PB, Morgan P, Hoffman M, Klingel J (2002) Ecological restoration of Southwestern ponderosa pine ecosystems: a broad perspective. Ecol Appl 12(5):1418–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berryman A, Stenseth ANC, Wollkind DJ (1982) Metastability of forest ecosystems infested by bark beetles. Res Popul Ecol 26: 13–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bodin O, Elmquist T, Tengo MJ, Norman A, Lundberg J, Elmgvist T (2006) The value of small size: loss of forest patches and ecological thresholds in southern Madagascar. Ecol Appl 16:440–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Breshears DD, Allen CD (2002) The importance of rapid, disturbance-induced losses in carbon management and sequestration. Glob Ecol Biogeogr Lett 11:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Breshears DD, Cobb NS, Rich PM, Price KP, Allen CD, Balice RG, Romme WH, Kastens JH, Floyd ML, Belnap J, Anderson JJ, Myers OB, Meyer CW (2005) Regional vegetation die-off in response to global-change type drought. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102:15144–48PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brooks ML, Matchett JR (2006) Spatial and temporal patterns of wildfire in the Mojave Desert: 1980–2004. J Arid Environ 67:148–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brooks ML, D’Antonio CM, Richardson DM, DiTomaso JM, Grace JB, Hobbs RJ, Keeley JE, Pellant M, Pyke D (2004) Effects of invasive alien plants on fire regimes. Bioscience 54:677–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burkett VR, Wilcox DAR, Barrow W, Fagre D, Baron J, Price J, Nielsen JL, Allen CD, Peterson DL, Ruggerone G, Doyle T (2005) Nonlinear dynamics in ecosystem response to climatic change: case studies and policy implications. Biocomplexity 2:357–94Google Scholar
  12. Cram DS, Baker TT, Boren JC (2006) Wildland fire effects in silviculturally treated vs. untreated stands of New Mexico and Arizona. Fort Collins: USDA Forest Service Research Paper RMRS-RP-55. 28pGoogle Scholar
  13. Davenport DW, Breshears DD, Wilcox BP, Allen CD (1998) Sustainability of piñon-juniper woodlands—a unifying perspective of soil erosion thresholds. J Range Manage 51:231–40Google Scholar
  14. D’Antonio CM, Vitousek PM (1992) Biological invasions by exotic grasses, the grass/fire cycle, and global change. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 23:63–87Google Scholar
  15. Esque TC, Schwalbe CR (2002) Alien annual grasses and their relationship to fire and biotic change in Sonoran Desertscrub. In: Tellman B, ed. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Studies in Natural History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. pp 165–95Google Scholar
  16. Fensham RJ, Holman JE (1999) Temporal and spatial patterns in drought-related tree dieback in Australian savanna. J Appl Ecol 36:1035–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Finney MA (2001) Design of regular landscape fuel treatment patterns for modifying fire growth and behavior. For Sci 47:219–28Google Scholar
  18. Finney MA, McHugh CW, Grenfell IC (2006) Stand- and landscape-level effects of prescribed burning on two Arizona wildfires. Can J For Res 35:1714–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Franklin JF, Shugart HH, Harmon ME (1987) Tree death as an ecological process. Bioscience 37:550–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gitlin AR, Stultz CM, Bowker MA, Stumpf S, Ecton K, Kennedy K, Monoz A, Bailey JK, Whitham TG (2006) Mortality gradients within and among dominant plant populations as barometers of ecosystem change during extreme drought. Conserv Biol 20:1477–86PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gonzalez P (2001) Desertification and a shift of forest species in the West African Sahel. Clim Res 17:217–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gunderson L, Holling CS (2002) Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Washington: Island PressGoogle Scholar
  23. IPCC (2001) Climate change 2001: synthesis report. A contribution of working groups I, II, and III to the 3rd Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In: Watson RR and the Core Writing Team (eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 398 ppGoogle Scholar
  24. Johansen MP, Hakonson TE, Breshears DD (2001) Post-fire runoff and erosion from rainfall simulation: contrasting forests with shrublands and grasslands. Hydrol Process 15:2953–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kitzberger T, Brown PM, Heyerdahl EK, Swetnam TW, Veblen TT (2007) Contingent Pacific–Atlantic Ocean influence on multicentury wildfire synchrony over western North America. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:543–48PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Knapp PA (1998) Spatio-temporal patterns of large grassland fires in the intermountain West, U.S.A. Glob Ecol Biogeogr Lett 7:259–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Logan JA, Powell JA (2001) Ghost forests, global warming, and the mountain pine beetle. Am Entom 47:160–72Google Scholar
  28. Ludwig D, Jones D, Holling CS (1978) Qualitative analysis of insect outbreak systems: the spruce budworm and the forest. J Anim Ecol 47: 315–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McAuliffe JR, Scuderi LA, McFadden LD (2006) Tree-ring record of hillslope erosion and valley floor dynamics: Landscape responses to climate variation during the last 400yr in the Colorado Plateau, northeastern Arizona. Glob Planet Change 50:184–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Miller C, Urban DL (2000) Connectivity of forest fuels and surface fire regimes. Landsc Ecol 15:145–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mirit MN, Rodriquez-Buritica S, Wright SJ, Howe HF (2007) Episodic death across species of desert shrubs. Ecology 88:32–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moore MM, Covington WW, Fule PZ (1999) Reference conditions and ecological restoration: a southwestern ponderosa pine perspective. Ecol Appl 9:1266–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mueller RC, Scudder CM, Porter ME, Trotter III RT, Gehring CA, Whitham TG (2005) Differential tree mortality in response to severe drought: evidence for long-term vegetation shifts. J Ecol 93:1085–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nepstad DG, Carvalho G, Barros AC, Alencar AC, Capobianco JP, Bishop, Moutinho P, Lefebvre P, Silva UL Jr, Prins E (2001) Road paving, fire regime feedbacks, and the future of Amazon forests. For Ecol Manage 154:395–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pedersen BS (1998) The role of stress in the mortality of Midwestern oaks as indicated by growth prior to death. Ecology 79:79–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peters DPC, Pielke RA Sr, Bestelmeyer BT, Allen CD, Munson-McGee S, Havstad KM (2004) Cross scale interactions, nonlinearities, and forecasting catastrophic events. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:15130–5PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Peters DPC, Bestelmeyer BT, Herrick JE, Fredrickson EL, Monger HC, Havstad KM (2006) Disentangling complex landscapes: new insights to forecasting arid and semiarid ecosystem dynamics. BioScience 56:491–501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Peters DPC, Bestelmeyer BT, Turner MG (2007) Cross-scale interactions and changing pattern-process relationships: consequences for system dynamics. Ecosystems (this issue)Google Scholar
  39. Powell JA, Logan JA (2005) Insect seasonality: circle map analysis of temperature-driven life cycles. Theor Popul Biol 67:161–79PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rothman HK (1992) On rims and ridges: the Los Alamos area since 1880. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 376 pGoogle Scholar
  41. Sanfranyik L, Carroll AL (2006) The biology and epidemiology of the mountain pine beetle in lodgepole pine forests. In: Safranyik L, Wilson B eds. The Mountain Pine Beetle: A Synthesis of its Biology, Management and Impacts on Lodgepole Pine. Victoria: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry Centre. pp 3–66Google Scholar
  42. Savage M, Mast JN (2005) How resilient are southwestern ponderosa pine forests after crown fires? Can J For Res 35:967–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schlesinger WH, Reynolds JF, Cunningham GL, Huenneke LF, Jarrell WM, Virginia RA, Whitford WG (1990) Biological feedbacks in global desertification. Science 247:1043–48PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Seager R, Ting MF, Held IM, Kushnir Y, Lu J, Vecchi G, Huang H-P, Harnik N, Leetmaa A, Lau N-C, Li C, Velez J, Naik N (2007) Model projections of an imminent transition to a more arid climate in Southwestern North America. Science 316:1181–1184PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Shakesby RA, Doerr SH (2006) Wildfire as a hydrological and geomorphological agent. Earth Sci Rev 74:269–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shaw JD, Steed BE, DeBlander LT (2005) Forest inventory and analysis (FIA) annual inventory answers the question: what is happening to our pinyon-juniper woodlands? J For 103(6):280–5Google Scholar
  47. Sisk TD, Savage M, Falk D, Allen CD, Muldavin E, McCarthy P (2005) A landscape perspective for forest restoration. J For 103(6):319–20Google Scholar
  48. Suarez ML, Ghermandi L, Kitzberger T (2004) Factors predisposing episodic drought-induced tree mortality in Nothofagus–site, climatic sensitivity and growth trends. J Ecol 92:954–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Swetnam TW, Baisan CH (1996) Historical fire regime patterns in the southwestern United States since AD 1700. Allen CD, technical editor. Fire Effects in Southwestern Forests: Proceedings of the Second La Mesa Fire Symposium. Fort Collins: USDA Forest Service General Technical Report RM-GTR-286. pp 11–32Google Scholar
  50. Swetnam, TW, Baisan CH (2003) Tree-ring reconstructions of fire and climate history in the Sierra Nevada and Southwestern United States. In: Veblen TT, Baker W, Montenegro G, and Swetnam TW eds. Fire and climatic change in temperate ecosystems of the Western Americas. Ecological Studies, vol 160, New York: Springer. pp 158–95Google Scholar
  51. Swetnam TW, Betancourt JL (1998) Mesoscale disturbance and ecological response to decadal climatic variability in the American Southwest. J Clim 11:3128–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Swetnam TW, Allen CD, Betancourt JL (1999) Applied historical ecology: Using the past to manage for the future. Ecol Appl 9:1189–1206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Touchan R, Allen CD, Swetnam TW (1996) Fire history and climatic patterns in ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of the Jemez Mountains, northern New Mexico. Allen CD, technical editor. Fire Effects in Southwestern Forests: Proceedings of the Second La Mesa Fire Symposium. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service General Technical Report RM-GTR-286. pp 33–46Google Scholar
  54. Turner MG (2005) Landscape ecology in North America: past, present, and future. Ecology 86:1967–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Turner MG, Gardner RH, O’Neill RV (2001) Landscape ecology in theory and practice: pattern and process. New York: Springer. 404pGoogle Scholar
  56. US Forest Service (2003) Forest insect and disease conditions in the Southwestern Region. Publication No. R3-04-02. Albuquerque: US Forest Service, Southwestern Region, NM. 34pGoogle Scholar
  57. Veenhuis J (2002) Effects of wildfire on the hydrology of Capulin and Rito de los Frijoles Canyons, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico. Albuquerque: US Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigations Report 02-4152Google Scholar
  58. Westerling AL, Hidalgo HG, Cayan DR, Swetnam TW (2006) Warming and earlier spring increases western U.S. fire activity Science 313:940–43PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Whelan RJ (1995) The ecology of fire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 346pGoogle Scholar
  60. Wilcox BP, Breshears DD, Allen CD (2003) Ecohydrology of a resource-conserving semiarid woodland: effects of scale and disturbance. Ecol Monogr 73:223–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wooton EO (1908) The range problem in New Mexico. Agriculture Experiment Station Bulletin No. 66. Las Cruces: New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. 46pGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.US Geological SurveyJemez Mountains Field StationLos AlamosUSA

Personalised recommendations