Fire activity and severity in the western US vary along proxy gradients representing fuel amount and fuel moisture

Sean A. Parks, Marc André Parisien, Carol Miller, Solomon Z. Dobrowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Numerous theoretical and empirical studies have shown that wildfire activity (e.g., area burned) at regional to global scales may be limited at the extremes of environmental gradients such as productivity or moisture. Fire activity, however, represents only one component of the fire regime, and no studies to date have characterized fire severity along such gradients. Given the importance of fire severity in dictating ecological response to fire, this is a considerable knowledge gap. For the western US, we quantify relationships between climate and the fire regime by empirically describing both fire activity and severity along two climatic water balance gradients, actual evapotranspiration (AET) and water deficit (WD), that can be considered proxies for fuel amount and fuel moisture, respectively. We also concurrently summarize fire activity and severity among ecoregions, providing an empirically based description of the geographic distribution of fire regimes. Our results show that fire activity in the western US increases with fuel amount (represented by AET) but has a unimodal (i.e., humped) relationship with fuel moisture (represented by WD); fire severity increases with fuel amount and fuel moisture. The explicit links between fire regime components and physical environmental gradients suggest that multivariable statistical models can be generated to produce an empirically based fire regime map for the western US. Such models will potentially enable researchers to anticipate climate-mediated changes in fire recurrence and its impacts based on gridded spatial data representing future climate scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere99699
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 18 2014

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