Fire Refugia: What Are They, and Why Do They Matter for Global Change?

Arjan J H Meddens, Crystal A Kolden, James A Lutz, Alistair M S Smith, C Alina Cansler, John T Abatzoglou, Garrett W Meigs, William M Downing, Meg A Krawchuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Fire refugia are landscape elements that remain unburned or minimally affected by fire, thereby supporting postfire ecosystem function, biodiversity, and resilience to disturbances. Although fire refugia have been studied across continents, scales, and affected taxa, they have not been characterized systematically over space and time, which is crucial for understanding their role in facilitating resilience in the context of global change. We identify four dichotomies that delineate an overarching conceptual framework of fire refugia: unburned versus lower severity, species-specific versus landscape-process characteristics, predictable versus stochastic, and ephemeral versus persistent. We outline the principal concepts underlying the ecological function of fire refugia and describe both the role of fire refugia and uncertainties regarding their persistence under global change. An improved understanding of fire refugia is crucial to conservation given the role that humans play in shaping disturbance regimes across landscapes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)944-954
Number of pages11
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • LANDSCAPE ecology
  • GLOBAL environmental change
  • ECOLOGICAL resilience
  • CONSERVATION of natural resources
  • biogeography
  • landscape ecology
  • refuge
  • resilience
  • wildfires


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