Effects of wildfire on stream temperatures in the Bitterroot River Basin, Montana

Shad K. Mahlum, Lisa A. Eby, Michael K. Young, Chris G. Clancy, Mike Jakober

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Wildfire is a common natural disturbance that can influence stream ecosystems. Of particular concern are increases in water temperature during and following fires, but studies of these phenomena are uncommon. We examined effects of wildfires in 2000 on maximum water temperature for a suite of second- to fourth-order streams with a range of burn severities in the Bitterroot River basin, Montana. Despite many sites burning at high severity, there were no apparent increases in maximum water temperature during the fires. One month after fire and in the subsequent year, increases in maximum water temperatures at sites within burns were 1.4-2.2°C greater than those at reference sites, with the greatest differences in July and August. Maximum temperature changes at sites >1.7km downstream from burns did not differ from those at reference sites. Seven years after the fires, there was no evidence that maximum stream temperatures were returning to pre-fire norms. Temperature increases in these relatively large streams are likely to be long-lasting and exacerbated by climate change. These combined effects may alter the distribution of thermally sensitive aquatic species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-247
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2011


  • aquatic ecosystems
  • disturbance
  • recovery
  • watershed


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