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Batllori E.,InForest Joint Research Unit | Batllori E.,University of California at Berkeley | Ackerly D.D.,University of California at Berkeley | Moritz M.A.,University of California at Berkeley
Environmental Research Letters | Year: 2015

Altered disturbance regimes in the context of global change are likely to have profound consequences for ecosystems. Interactions between fire and vegetation are of particular interest, as fire is a major driver of vegetation change, and vegetation properties (e.g., amount, flammability) alter fire regimes. Mediterranean-type ecosystems (MTEs) constitute a paradigmatic example of temperate fire-prone vegetation. Although these ecosystems may be heavily impacted by global change, disturbance regime shifts and the implications of fire-vegetation feedbacks in the dynamics of such biomes are still poorly characterized. We developed a minimal modeling framework incorporating key aspects of fire ecology and successional processes to evaluate the relative influence of extrinsic and intrinsic factors on disturbance and vegetation dynamics in systems composed of grassland, shrubland, and woodland mosaics, which characterize many MTEs. In this theoretical investigation, we performed extensive simulations representing different background rates of vegetation succession and disturbance regime (fire frequency and severity) processes that reflect a broad range of MTE environmental conditions. Varying fire-vegetation feedbacks can lead to different critical points in underlying processes of disturbance and sudden shifts in the vegetation state of grassland-shrubland-woodland systems, despite gradual changes in ecosystem drivers as defined by the environment. Vegetation flammability and disturbance stochasticity effectively modify system behavior, determining its heterogeneity and the existence of alternative stable states in MTEs. Small variations in system flammability and fire recurrence induced by climate or vegetation changes may trigger sudden shifts in the state of such ecosystems. The existence of threshold dynamics, alternative stable states, and contrasting system responses to environmental change has broad implications for MTE management. © 2015 IOP Publishing Ltd. Source

Whitman E.,Simon Fraser University | Whitman E.,Natural Resources Canada | Batllori E.,Policy and Management | Batllori E.,InForest Joint Research Unit | And 6 more authors.
Journal of Biogeography | Year: 2015

Aim: Studies of fire activity along environmental gradients have been undertaken, but the results of such studies have yet to be integrated with fire-regime analysis. We characterize fire-regime components along climate gradients and a gradient of human influence. Location: We focus on a climatically diverse region of north-western North America extending from northern British Columbia, Canada, to northern Utah and Colorado, USA. Methods: We used a multivariate framework to collapse 12 climatic variables into two major climate gradients and binned them into 73 discrete climate domains. We examined variation in fire-regime components (frequency, size, severity, seasonality and cause) across climate domains. Fire-regime attributes were compiled from existing databases and Landsat imagery for 1897 large fires. Relationships among the fire-regime components, climate gradients and human influence were examined through bivariate regressions. The unique contribution of human influence was also assessed. Results: A primary climate gradient of temperature and summer precipitation and a secondary gradient of continentality and winter precipitation in the study area were identified. Fire occupied a distinct central region of such climate space, within which fire-regime components varied considerably. We identified significant interrelations between fire-regime components of fire size, frequency, burn severity and cause. The influence of humans was apparent in patterns of burn severity and ignition cause. Main conclusions: Wildfire activity is highest where thermal and moisture gradients converge to promote fuel production, flammability and ignitions. Having linked fire-regime components to large-scale climate gradients, we show that fire regimes - like the climate that controls them - are a part of a continuum, expanding on models of varying constraints on fire activity. The observed relationships between fire-regime components, together with the distinct role of climatic and human influences, generate variation in biotic communities. Thus, future changes to climate may lead to ecological changes through altered fire regimes. © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Source

Mann M.L.,George Washington University | Mann M.L.,University of California at Berkeley | Batllori E.,InForest Joint Research Unit | Moritz M.A.,University of California at Berkeley | And 5 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2016

The costly interactions between humans and wildfires throughout California demonstrate the need to understand the relationships between them, especially in the face of a changing climate and expanding human communities. Although a number of statistical and process-based wildfire models exist for California, there is enormous uncertainty about the location and number of future fires, with previously published estimates of increases ranging from nine to fifty-three percent by the end of the century. Our goal is to assess the role of climate and anthropogenic influences on the state's fire regimes from 1975 to 2050. We develop an empirical model that integrates estimates of biophysical indicators relevant to plant communities and anthropogenic influences at each forecast time step. Historically, we find that anthropogenic influences account for up to fifty percent of explanatory power in the model. We also find that the total area burned is likely to increase, with burned area expected to increase by 2.2 and 5.0 percent by 2050 under climatic bookends (PCM and GFDL climate models, respectively). Our two climate models show considerable agreement, but due to potential shifts in rainfall patterns, substantial uncertainty remains for the semiarid inland deserts and coastal areas of the south. Given the strength of human-related variables in some regions, however, it is clear that comprehensive projections of future fire activity should include both anthropogenic and biophysical influences. Previous findings of substantially increased numbers of fires and burned area for California may be tied to omitted variable bias from the exclusion of human influences. The omission of anthropogenic variables in our model would overstate the importance of climatic ones by at least 24%. As such, the failure to include anthropogenic effects in many models likely overstates the response of wildfire to climatic change. © 2016, Public Library of Science. All rights reserved. This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. Source

Regos A.,InForest Joint Research Unit | Aquilue N.,InForest Joint Research Unit | Aquilue N.,Center Detude Of La Foret Cef | Retana J.,InForest Joint Research Unit | And 2 more authors.
Ecosystems | Year: 2016

Increases in fire impacts over many regions of the world have led to large-scale investments in fire-suppression efforts. There is increasing recognition that biomass extraction for energy purposes may become an important forest-management practice in fire-prone ecosystems. However, at present, very few studies have explicitly assessed biomass extraction as a fuel treatment at landscape scale. Here, we use a landscape fire-succession model in Catalonia (NE Spain) to quantitatively evaluate the potential effects of a biomass extraction-based strategy on essential fire-regime attributes after considering different levels of fire suppression, biomass extraction intensity, and spatial allocation of such efforts. Our simulations indicated that the effectiveness (area suppressed in relation to expected area to burn) at suppressing wildfires was determined by extraction intensity, spatial allocation of the extraction effort, and the fire-suppression levels involved. Indeed, the highest suppressed-area values were found with lower harvesting intensities, especially under high fire-suppression capabilities and strategies focused on bioenergy goals (figures close to 0.7). However, the leverage (area suppressed in relation to managed area) was higher when the treatments were based on the fire-prevention strategy and focused on high-fire-risk areas (up to 0.45) than with treatment designed for energy reasons (lower than 0.15). We conclude that biomass extraction for energy purposes has the potential to induce changes in fire regimes and can therefore be considered a cost-effective landscape-level fuel-reduction treatment. However, our results suggest that large-scale biomass extraction may be needed if significant changes in fire regimes are to be expected. © 2016 Springer Science+Business Media New York Source

Gil-Tena A.,InForest Joint Research Unit | Aquilue N.,InForest Joint Research Unit | Aquilue N.,University of Quebec at Montreal | Duane A.,InForest Joint Research Unit | And 2 more authors.
European Journal of Forest Research | Year: 2016

Afforestation after land abandonment and the occurrence of large fires have significantly altered the composition of pine-oak ecosystems in the Mediterranean since 1950s, the latter favouring the prevalence of oak forests and shrublands to that of pine forests. Nevertheless, our ability to integrate the processes driving these changes in modelling tools and to project them under future global change scenarios is scarce. This study aims at investigating how Mediterranean forest landscape composition and seral stages may be affected by mid-term changes in fire regime and climate. Taking Catalonia (NE Spain) as study area, we predicted yearly changes in forest landscape composition using the MEDFIRE model which allows assessing the effects of different fire regimes on landscape dynamics such as post-fire regeneration and afforestation. We considered three climatic treatments based on observed and projected climate, two fire regimes largely differing in the amount of area burnt and the number of large fires, and two fire suppression strategies. While projected afforestation continued to increase forest cover in the 2050 horizon, a climate-related harsher fire regime (higher amounts of area burnt) accelerated a shift towards landscapes progressively dominated by oaks and shrublands, thus precluding general forest maturation. Fire-sensitive pine species contributed to net forest cover loss in the worst scenarios. An active fire suppression strategy partially compensated the effects of a climate-related harsher fire regime on pine forest loss and rejuvenation, whereas variability in climate projections weakly affected spatial fire allocation and afforestation. Our results highlight the need to explicitly incorporate fire suppression strategies in forest landscape composition forecasts in the Mediterranean. At mid-term, large-scale afforestation, post-fire forest rejuvenation and landscape composition changes may alter forest ecosystem functioning and potentially interact with fire suppression planning. © 2016 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg Source

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