Evidence for declining forest resilience to wildfires under climate change

Camille S. Stevens-Rumann, Kerry B. Kemp, Philip E. Higuera, Brian J. Harvey, Monica T. Rother, Daniel C. Donato, Penelope Morgan, Thomas T. Veblen

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

440 Scopus citations

Abstract

Forest resilience to climate change is a global concern given the potential effects of increased disturbance activity, warming temperatures and increased moisture stress on plants. We used a multi-regional dataset of 1485 sites across 52 wildfires from the US Rocky Mountains to ask if and how changing climate over the last several decades impacted post-fire tree regeneration, a key indicator of forest resilience. Results highlight significant decreases in tree regeneration in the 21st century. Annual moisture deficits were significantly greater from 2000 to 2015 as compared to 1985–1999, suggesting increasingly unfavourable post-fire growing conditions, corresponding to significantly lower seedling densities and increased regeneration failure. Dry forests that already occur at the edge of their climatic tolerance are most prone to conversion to non-forests after wildfires. Major climate-induced reduction in forest density and extent has important consequences for a myriad of ecosystem services now and in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-252
Number of pages10
JournalEcology Letters
Volume21
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2018

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • forest recovery
  • forest resilience
  • tree regeneration
  • wildfire

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