Spatial models for inferring topographic controls on historical low-severity fire in the eastern Cascade Range of Washington, USA
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Fire regimes are complex systems that represent an aggregate of spatial and temporal events whose statistical properties are scale dependent. Despite the breadth of research regarding the spatial controls on fire regime variability, few datasets are available with sufficient resolution to test spatially explicit hypotheses. We used a spatially distributed network of georeferenced fire-scarred trees to investigate the spatial structure of fire occurrence at multiple scales. Mantel’s tests and geostatistical analysis of fire-occurrence time series led to inferences about the mechanisms that generated spatial patterns of historical fire synchrony (multiple trees recording fire in a single year) in eastern Washington, USA. The spatial autocorrelation structure of historical fire regimes varied within and among sites, with clearer patterns in the complex rugged terrain of the Cascade Range than in more open and rolling terrain further north and east. Results illustrate that the statistical spatial characteristics of fire regimes change with landform characteristics within a forest type, suggesting that simple relationships between fire frequency, fire synchrony, and forest type do not exist. Quantifying the spatial structures in fire occurrence associated with topographic variation showed that fire regime variability depends on both landscape structure and the scale of measurement. Spatially explicit fire-scar data open new possibilities for analysis and interpretation, potentially informing the design and application of fire management on landscapes, including hazardous fuel treatments and the use of fire for ecosystem restoration.