Stand-replacing patches within a ‘mixed severity’ fire regime: quantitative characterization using recent fires in a long-established natural fire area
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The complexity inherent in variable, or mixed-severity fire regimes makes quantitative characterization of important fire regime attributes (e.g., proportion of landscape burned at different severities, size and distribution of stand-replacing patches) difficult. As a result, there is ambiguity associated with the term ‘mixed-severity’. We address this ambiguity through spatial analysis of two recent wildland fires in upper elevation mixed-conifer forests that occurred in an area with over 30 years of relatively freely-burning natural fires. We take advantage of robust estimates of fire severity and detailed spatial datasets to investigate patterns and controls on stand-replacing patches within these fires. Stand-replacing patches made up 15% of the total burned area between the two fires, which consisted of many small patches (<4 ha) and few large patches (>60 ha). Smaller stand-replacing patches were generally associated with shrub-dominated (Arctostaphylos spp. and Ceanothus spp.) and pine-dominated vegetation types, while larger stand-replacing patches tended to occur in more shade-tolerant, fir-dominated types. Additionally, in shrub-dominated types stand-replacing patches were often constrained to the underlying patch of vegetation, which for the shrub type were smaller across the two fire areas than vegetation patches for all other dominant vegetation types. For white and red fir forest types we found little evidence of vegetation patch constraint on the extent of stand-replacing patches. The patch dynamics we identified can be used to inform management strategies for landscapes in similar forest types.