Fire history of mixed conifer ecosystems in the Great Basin/Mojave Deserts transition zone, Nevada, USA

Abstract

Vegetation processes in terrestrial ecosystems are closely linked with wildfire regime, but fire histories at the boundary between the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts of North America are relatively sparse. We investigated wildfire regime and its driving factors before and after Euro-American settlement in high-elevation mixed-conifer ecosystems that are found as “mountain islands” in south-eastern Nevada, USA. Field-based results obtained at the Clover Mountains were compared with those already published for Mt. Irish, less than 100 km away, and also to remotely sensed information provided by the LANDFIRE project, which is commonly used for natural resource management. Annually resolved wildfire history at the Clover Mountains was derived back to year 1500 from fire scar samples taken from 139 ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) located in six stands. During the 1785–2007 period, when at least 20 recorder trees (and a total of 241 fire scars) were available, the Clover Mountains were characterized by frequent (mean fire interval <10 years) low-severity fires, half of which scarred more than 10 % of recorder trees. The 1877 and 1946 fires scarred 50 % or more of recorder trees and spread to four out of six sampled stands. After the 1946 event, the site has experienced a 61-year fire-free period tied to fire suppression activity starting in the mid-1900s. In comparison with Mt. Irish, the Clover Mountains showed a longer mean fire return interval, larger fires, and some patchy high-severity events, even before Euro-American settlement. Variations in ecosystem composition and associated fire regime in these high-elevation mixed-conifer woodlands were not adequately captured by remotely sensed data used for vegetation management, revealing a need for additional field-based assessments of fire regime characteristics in this region.

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Acknowledgments

This research was partially supported by Cooperative Agreement No. FAA070002 with the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, US Government, under the Great Basin Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit Agreement, and by NSF Cooperative Agreement EPS-0814372 to the Nevada System of Higher Education. Completion of the article was allowed by a Visiting Fellowship awarded to F. Biondi by the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences (CIRES) of the University of Colorado at Boulder. The views and conclusions within this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the US Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products within this paper does not constitute their endorsement by the US Government. The authors have no conflict of interest to declare, and they would like to thank the DendroLab personnel who helped with field and laboratory work, in particular Megan Bradley, Jon Cheek, Jeff Crawford, Jeff Crooks, Kelly Hoover, Michael Koch, Clint Maffi-Bosco, Katie Mann, Alex Mensing, Kevin Rock, and Kurt Solander. David Charlet provided valuable advice in locating isolated populations of Great Basin conifers. Finally, we are grateful to Gianluca Piovesan, Julio Betancourt, and Robin Tausch for their timely reviews and constructive criticism of an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Franco Biondi.

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Communicated by G. Piovesan.

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Kilpatrick, M., Biondi, F., Strachan, S. et al. Fire history of mixed conifer ecosystems in the Great Basin/Mojave Deserts transition zone, Nevada, USA. Trees 27, 1789–1803 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00468-013-0924-7

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Keywords

  • Tree rings
  • Dendroecology
  • Fire scars
  • Ponderosa pine
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • Single-leaf pinyon pine
  • Pinus monophylla
  • Clover Mountains
  • Mount Irish