Research & Publications
Documents, publications, photos, videos, and more, brought to you by the California Fire Science Consortium.
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Future climate-induced shifts in fire regimes and plant distributions could uncouple vegetation from the fire regimes for which they are adapted. The brief discusses changes to fire-adapted plant communities under modeled climate change scenarios and their implications on the Kaibab Plateau landscape.
Using a geodatabase, researchers found that the maximum elevation extent of wildfires and the probability of wildfire occurrence above 3000 m have increased over the last century in the Sierra Nevada. This trend may accelerate vegetation shifts towards upper montane forest types in current subalpine systems.
Photo courtesy of Sasha Berleman
Two recent studies reviewed here, have addressed the question of what distance into fuel treatments fire needs to travel before fire severity is diminished.
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For desert shrubland species that have evolved without fire, the introduction of a grass-fire, positive feedback cycle is particularly problematic. This brief discusses work done by researchers who modeled the grass-fire cycle for non-fire-adapted desert shrublands under three sets of climate conditions.
Fire is a strong driver of changes in montane forest structure in California’s Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade mountain ranges, which provide much of the snowpack and associated water storage for the state of California. This paper investigates how fire can influence snowpack and water storage.
This research brief looks at changes in land cover, water, and forest health within the Illilouette Creek Basin in Yosemite National Park. This basin has a unique fire management history, with most areas burned in the last 40 years. Results suggest that fire has had a positive influence on a number of the Basin's ecosystem functions.
During normal levels of beetle activity, fuel treatment reductions either cause no trees to die from beetles or just a few. If tree deaths occur, they reinforce fuel hazard reduction and forest restoration goals.
Both Southern France and California have large amounts of housing in the Wildland Urban Interface where local vegetation is highly dense and fire adapted. This research brief compares the land use policies used to reduce the exposure of homes to wildfire in these two locations.
Study results from arid regions in Southern California show how fire trends differ based on unique sets of circumstances. This brief discuses how combinations of direct drivers (like powerline and roadside ignitions), indirect drivers (like invasive grasses, air pollution, and landscape fragmentation terrestrial intactness) and unknown factors cause diversity in fire trends.
Wildland firefighters suppressing wildland fires or conducting prescribed fires work long shifts and are exposed to high levels of smoke with no respiratory protection. This research measures firefighter exposure to smoke and pollutants and offers way to reduce this exposure.
In an era of concern over climate change, it's important to understand how different kinds of fire-adapted of ecosystems in California may respond to climate change in relation to fire. This study categorized Californian ecosystems into three types and discusses how each may be affected by climate change and fire.
The design and materials used in construction is critical to preventing structure loss during wildland urban interface (WUI) fires. This research helps planners and homeowners by ranking specific construction materials by fire safety effectiveness, then comparing their use to landscape-scale design attributes.
Overall, the results of this study add support to the existing theory that diverse fire increases biodiversity in certain ecosystems. Specifically, this study showed that higher diversity of fire severity patterns within a fire lead to more bird diversity, especially in the fire prone semi-arid forests of the Sierra Nevada.
Photo: Nine years after the Moonlight fire in Plumas county, California, the landscape shows remarkable resilience with a diversity of habitat structure and birds. Photo courtesy Morgan Tingley.
Five different Mediterranean Type Ecosystems (MTEs) around the world have evolutionarily converged in function with analogous vegetation types. With gorgeous photographic samplers to illustrate each type, we learn why these fire-adapted systems host more biodiversity than every other terrestrial ecosystem outside of the wet tropics.
Just like soil and climate, fire has been shaping plant communities in fire-prone ecosystems around the world for millions of years. The proof is in the evolution of fire-adapted plant traits, a common theme for the following two research papers.
Because the evidence for fire as an evolutionary force is so overwhelming, Pausas et al. (2016) conveniently organized fire-adapted plant species into three syndromes for better management. The resulting Non-Fast-Hot syndrome scheme shows how different plant species likely evolved to either resist or use three dimensions of flammability (ignitability, fire spread rate, and heat release) for higher fitness.
A comparison of two historical fire history data sets, the State of California Fire and Resource Protection (FRAP) database and a database based on annual state and federal written reports, found substantial differences between the two.
Site-scale sampling methodologies could be misleading, especially for arid, geographically heterogeneous, biodiversity hotspots. These authors (Taylor et al. 2012) use a landscape-scale methodology to examine one such habitat, 'tree mallee' that has similar fire and ecologic traits to central and southern semi-arid habitats like chaparral. In addition, this study shows that postfire age class heterogeneity doesn’t increase avian species richness in this semi-arid habitat with long fire return intervals.
The likely effects of drought associated with climate change in the United States have recently been synthesized by James M. Vose, James S. Clark, Charles H. Luce and Toral Patel-Weynand. Here we summarize their conclusions as they apply to drought and fire and provide examples of how these conditions are affecting different ecosystems in California.
The King Fire burned through an area used for a long-term (23 years) demography study of spotted owls in the central Sierra Nevada, allowing the authors to compare the number and distribution of owls both before and one year after the fire.
In Southern California, fuel treatment strategies often put fire risk reduction and biodiversity conservation goals at odds with each other. In response to this conflict, two of our briefs (Syphard et al. 2016; Butsic et al. 2016) explore a novel new approach.
The authors assessed relative and absolute changes in wildfire area and severity in seven forest types arrayed along an elevational gradient in the Sierra Nevada and adjacent forested mountains. Findings suggest that there is a major fire “deficit” in the greater Sierra Nevada Region, across all major forest types. However, the nature of this deficit differs among forest types.
The authors of this paper investigated whether or not prescribed fire can create conditions that will reduce drought induced mortality in mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada.
Bohlman et al. conducted a study looking at the effects of post-fire reforestation on understory plant species richness and composition, as well as stand structure. Three different aged fires were selected to assess the role of time since fire on the different stand components.
Results from a 2016 study by Coppoletta and others suggests that in areas where fire regimes and forest structure have been dramatically altered, contemporary fires have the potential to set forests on a positive feedback trajectory with successive reburns, one in which extensive stand-replacing fire could promote more stand-replacing fire.
In a review article by Jon Keeley and Alex Syphard, examples from California show that fire regimes are sensitive to geographic and seasonal variation in the climate signal and that many factors will confound the ability to model future conditions.
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This study focuses on climate change and increasing human populations as two potential causes of the increasing number and size of wildfire in the western US.
The authors demonstrate how combining detailed field measurements with remote sensing imagery is a valuable method for capturing the spatial arrangement and variation of fuel loading in a chaparral landscape.
A 2012 study by Miller and others suggests that fire management approaches used by the National Park Service in Yosemite National Park could assist in the restoration and maintenance of Sierra Nevada forest ecosystems.
Why aren’t globally successful, weedy plant species generally found at high altitudes? This study suggests that it’s due to extreme abiotic conditions in association with the alien species’ life history traits, not a lack of opportunity.