Simulated Increases in Fire Activity Reinforce Shrub Conversion in a Southwestern US Forest

Abstract

Fire exclusion in historically frequent-fire forests of the southwestern United States has altered forest structure and increased the probability of high-severity fire. Warmer and drier conditions, coupled with dispersal distance limitations, are impeding tree seedling establishment and survival following high-severity fire. High-severity patches are commonly dominated by non-forest vegetation, a state that can be reinforced by subsequent fire events. We sought to determine the influence of fire probability on post-fire vegetation development in a severely burned landscape in New Mexico, USA. We used LANDIS-II to simulate three fire probability scenarios—historical fire probability, contemporary fire probability, and the mean of the two—with contemporary climate. As fire probability increased, the mean size of the largest fires and the mean landscape fire severity increased. These changes in fire characteristics resulted in decreased total aboveground biomass and photosynthetic capacity on the landscape after 50 years. Additionally, the distribution of individual species biomass shifted, with early successional species, especially those that resprout after fire, increasing as a fraction of total biomass with increasing fire occurrence. Counter to empirical data, our simulations did not show a conifer establishment limitation, suggesting a source of uncertainty that will need to be addressed to improve projections of forest dynamics under future climate. Even without limited conifer regeneration, continued increases in fire frequency are likely to favor resprouting species and result in a loss of forest biomass and ecosystem productivity in this southwestern forest landscape.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7

Data Availability

The data and code are available at https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.qrfj6q5b6.

References

  1. Aber JD, Ollinger SV, Federer A, Reich PB, Goulden ML, Kicklighter DW, Melillo JM, Lathrop RG. 1995. Predicting the effects of climate change on water yield and forest production in the northeastern United States. Climate Research 5:207–22.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Beisner BE, Haydon DT, Cuddington K. 2003. Alternative stable states in ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(7):376–82.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Britton CM, Dodd JD. 1976. Relationships of photosynthetically active radiation and shortwave irradiance. Agricultural Meteorology 17(1):1–7.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Coop JD, Parks SA, McClernan SR, Holsinger LM. 2016. Influences of prior wildfires on vegetation response to subsequent fire in a reburned Southwestern landscape. Ecological Applications 26(2):346–54.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Coppoletta M, Merriam KE, Collins BM. 2016. Post-fire vegetation and fuel development influences fire severity patterns in reburns. Ecological Applications 26(3):686–99.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Covington W, Fule PZ, Moore MM, Hart SC, Kolb TE, Mast JN, Sackett SS, Wagner MR. 1997. Restoring ecosystem health in ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest. Journal of Forestry 95(4):23–9.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Covington W, Moore MM. 1994. Southwestern ponderosa pine forest structure: changes since Euro-American Settlement. Journal of Forestry 92(1):39–47.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Davis KT, Dobrowski SZ, Higuera PE, Holden ZA, Veblen TT, Rother MT, Parks SA, Sala A, Maneta MP. 2019. Wildfires and climate change push low-elevation forests across a critical climate threshold for tree regeneration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116(13):6193–8.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  9. de Bruijn A, Gustafson EJ, Sturtevant BR, Foster JR, Miranda BR, Lichti NI, Jacobs DF. 2014. Toward more robust projections of forest landscape dynamics under novel environmental conditions: Embedding PnET within LANDIS-II. Ecological Modelling 287:44–57.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Dodson EK, Root HT. 2013. Conifer regeneration following stand-replacing wildfire varies along an elevation gradient in a ponderosa pine forest, Oregon, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 302:163–70.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Fule PZ, Swetnam TW, Brown PM, Falk DA, Peterson DL, Allen CD, Aplet GH, Battaglia MA, Binkley D, Farris C, Keane RE, Margolis EQ, Grissino-Mayer H, Miller C, Sieg CH, Skinner C, Stephens SL, Taylor A. 2014. Unsupported inferences of high-severity fire in historical dry forests of the western United States: response to Williams and Baker. Global Ecology and Biogeography 23:825–30.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Grabinski ZS, Sherriff RL, Kane JM. 2017. Controls of reburn severity vary with fire interval in the Klamath Mountains, California, USA. Ecosphere 8(11):e02012.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Guiterman CH, Margolis EQ, Alllen CD, Falk DA, Swetnam TW. 2018. Long-term persistence and fire resilience of oak shrubfields in dry conifer forests of Northern New Mexico. Ecosystems 21:943–59.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Haffey C, Sisk TD, Allen CD, Thode AE, Margolis EQ. 2018. Limits to ponderosa pine regeneration following large high-severity forest fires in the United States Southwest. Fire Ecology 14(1):143–63.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Halofsky JE, Donato DC, Hibbs DE, Campbell JL, Cannon MD, Fontaine JB, Thompson JR, Anthony RG, Bormann BT, Kayes LJ, Law BE, Peterson DL, Spies TA. 2011. Mixed-severity fire regimes: lessons and hypotheses from the Klamath–Siskiyou Ecoregion. Ecosphere 2(4):1–19.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Hessburg PF, Miller CL, Parks SA, Povak NA, Taylor AH, Higuera PE, Prichard SJ, North MP, Collins BM, Hurteau MD, Larson AJ, Allen CD, Stephens SL, Rivera-Huerta H, Stevens-Rumann CS, Daniels LD, Gedalof Z, Gray RW, Kane VR, Churchill DJ, Hagmann RK, Spies TA, Cansler CA, Belote RT, Veblen TT, Battaglia MA, Hoffman C, Skinner CN, Safford HD, Salter RB. 2019. Climate, Environment, and Disturbance History Govern Resilience of Western North American Forests. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 7:239.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Holden ZA, Morgan P, Hudak AT. 2010. Burn severity of areas reburned by wildfires in the Gila National Forest, New Mexico, USA. Fire Ecology 6(3):77–85.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Hurteau MD. 2017. Quantifying the carbon balance of forest restoration and wildfire under projected climate in the fire-prone southwestern US. PLos ONE 12(1):e0169275.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. Jenkins JC, Chojnacky DC, Heath LS, Birdsey RA. 2003. National-scale biomass estimators for United States tree species. Forest Science 49(1):12–35.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Kattge J, Diaz S, Lavorel S, Prentice IC, Leadley P, Bönisch G et al. 2011. TRY-a global database of plant traits. Global Change Biology 17:2905–35.

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. Kemp KB, Higuera PE, Morgan P. 2016. Fire legacies impact conifer regeneration across environmental gradients in the U.S. northern Rockies. Landscape Ecology 31:619–36.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kemp KB, Higuera PE, Morgan P, Abatzoglou JT. 2019. Climate will increasingly determine post-fire tree regeneration success in low-elevation forests, Northern Rockies, USA. Ecosphere 10(1):e02568.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Krofcheck DJ, Remy C, Keyser A, Hurteau MD. 2019. Optimizing forest management stabilizes carbon under projected climate and wildfire. JGR Biogeosciences 124(10):3075–87.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Krofcheck DJ, Hurteau MD, Scheller RM, Loudermilk EL. 2017. Restoring surface fire stabilizes forest carbon under extreme fire weather in the Sierra Nevada. Ecosphere 8(1):e01663.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Lauvaux CA, Skinner CN, Taylor AH. 2016. High severity fire and mixed conifer forest-chaparral dynamics in the southern Cascade Range, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 363:74–85.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Littell JS, Peterson DL, Riley KL, Liu Y, Luce CH. 2016. A review of the relationships between drought and forest fire in the United States. Global Change Biology 22:2353–69.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Margolis EQ, Balmat J. 2009. Fire history and fire-climate relationships along a fire regime gradient in the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed, NM, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 258:2416–30.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Margolis EQ, Malevich SB. 2016. Historical dominance of low-severity fire in dry and wet mixed-conifer forest habitats of the endangered terrestrial Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon newmexicanus). Forest Ecology and Management 375:12–26.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Margolis EQ, Swetnam TW, Allen CD. 2007. A stand-replacing fire history in upper montane forests of the southern Rocky Mountains. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 37:2227–41.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Moore MM, Huffman DW, Fule PZ, Covington WW, Crouse JE. 2004. Comparison of historical and contemporary forest structure and composition on permanent plots in Southwestern ponderosa pine forests. Forest Science 50(2):162–76.

    Google Scholar 

  31. MTBS Data Access: Fire Level Geospatial Data. 2017. MTBS Project (USDA Forest Service/U.S. Geological Survey). Available online: http://mtbs.gov/direct-download.

  32. O’Connor CD, Falk DA, Lynch AM, Swetnam TW. 2014. Fire severity, size, and climate associations diverge from historical precedent along an ecological gradient in the Pinaleño Mountains, Arizona, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 329:264–78.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Owen SM, Sieg CH, Sánchez Meador AJ, Fulé PZ, Iniguez JM, Baggett LS, Fornwalt PJ, Battaglia MA. 2017. Spatial patterns of ponderosa pine regeneration in high-severity burn patches. Forest Ecology and Management 405:134–49.

    Google Scholar 

  34. R Core Team. 2019. R: A language and Environment for Statistical Computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria. https://www.R-project.org/

  35. Remy C, Krofcheck DJ, Keyser A, Litvak M, Collins S, Hurteau MD. 2019. Integrating species-specific information in models improves regional projections under climate change. Geophysical Research Letters 46(12):6554–62.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Roccaforte JP, Fule PZ, Chancellor WW, Laughlin DC. 2012. Woody debris and tree regeneration dynamics following severe wildfires in Arizona ponderosa pine forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 42:593–604.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Rodman KC, Veblen TT, Chapman TB, Rother MT, Wion AP, Redmond MD. 2020. Limitations to recovery following wildfire in dry forests of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, USA. Ecological Applications 30(1):e02001.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Rother MT, Veblen TT. 2016. Limited conifer regeneration following wildfires in dry ponderosa pine forests of the Colorado Front Range. Ecosphere 7(12):e01594.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Rother MT, Veblen TT, Furman LG. 2015. A field experiment informs expected patterns of conifer regeneration after disturbance under changing climate conditions. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 45(11):1607–16.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Savage M, Mast JN. 2005. How resilient are southwestern ponderosa pine forests after crown fires? Canadian Journal of Forest Research 2005(35):967–77.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Savage M, Mast JN, Feddema JJ. 2013. Double whammy: high-severity fire and drought in ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 43(6):570–83.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Scheller RM, Domingo JB, Sturtevant BR, Williams JS, Rudy A, Mladenoff DJ, Gustafson EJ. 2007. Introducing LANDIS-II: design and development of a collaborative landscape simulation model with flexible spatial and temporal scales. Ecological Modelling 201(3–4):409–19.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Serra-Diaz JM, Maxwell C, Lucash MS, Scheller RM, Laflower DM, Miller AD, Tepley AJ, Epstein HE, Anderson-Teixeira KJ, Thompson JR. 2018. Disequilibrium of fire-prone forests sets the stage for a rapid decline in conifer dominance during the 21st century. Nature Scientific Reports 8:6749.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Sheppard PR, Comrie AC, Packin GD, Angersbach K, Hughes MK. 2002. The climate of the US Southwest. Climate Research 21:219–38.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Singleton MP, Thode AE, Sanchez Meador AJ, Iniguez JM. 2019. Increasing trends in high-severity fire in the southwestern USA from 1984 to 2015. Forest Ecology and Management 433:709–19.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Soil Survey Staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture. U.S. General Soil Map (STATSGO2). Available online at https://sdmdataaccess.sc.egov.usda.gov. Accessed 1/20/18.

  47. Stevens-Runmann CS, Kemp KB, Higuera PE, Harvey BJ, Rother MT, Donato DC, Morgan P, Veblen TT. 2018. Evidence for declining forest resilience to wildfires under climate change. Ecology Letters 21:243–52.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Sturtevant BR, Scheller RM, Miranda BR, Shinneman D, Syphard AD. 2009. Simulating dynamic and mixed-severity fire regimes: A process-based fire extension for LANDIS-II. Ecological Modelling 220:3380–93.

    Google Scholar 

  49. 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 WL, Montenegro G, Swetnam TW, Eds. Fire and Climatic Change in Temperate Ecosystems of the Western Americas. Ecological Studies (Analysis and Synthesis), Vol. 160. New York, NY: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Thornton, P.E., M.M. Thornton, B.W. Mayer, N. Wilhelmi, Y. Wei, R. Devarakonda, and R.B. Cook. 2016. Daymet: Daily Surface Weather Data on a 1-km Grid for North America, Version 2. ORNL DAAC. Oak Ridge, TN, USA. https://doi.org/10.3334/ORNLDAAC/1219.

  51. Walker RB, Coop JD, Parks SA, Trader L. 2018. Fire regimes approaching historic norms reduce wildfire-facilitated conversion from forest to non-forest. Ecosphere 9(4):e02182.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Westerling AL, Hidalgo HG, Cayan DR, Swetnam TW. 2006. Warming and earlier spring increase western U.S. forest wildfire activity. Science 313:940–3.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. Westerling AL. 2016. Increasing western US forest wildfire activity: sensitivity to changes in the timing of spring. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 371:20150178.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Yocom-Kent LL, Fule PZ, Bunn WA, Gdula EG. 2015. Historical high-severity fire patches in mixed-conifer forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 45(11):1587–96.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Young DJN, Werner CM, Welch KR, Young TP, Safford HD, Latimer AM. 2019. Post-fire forest regeneration shows limited climate tracking and potential for drought-induced type conversion. Ecology 100(2):e02571.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Joint Fire Science Program under Project JFSP 16-1-05-8 and the Interagency Carbon Cycle Science Program Grant No. 2017-67004-26486/Project Accession No. 1012226 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew D. Hurteau.

Additional information

Author Contributions

ARK, MDH and CDA conceived the study. ARK and MDH designed the study and wrote the paper. ARK performed research and analyzed data. CCR contributed to the physiological parameterization. DJK contributed the fire model parameterization. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 768 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Keyser, A.R., Krofcheck, D.J., Remy, C.C. et al. Simulated Increases in Fire Activity Reinforce Shrub Conversion in a Southwestern US Forest. Ecosystems 23, 1702–1713 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-020-00498-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Fire severity
  • Fire probability
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • Quercus gambelii
  • Populus tremuloides
  • Post-fire recovery
  • Conifer regeneration
  • Shrub conversion