Resilience to Large, “Catastrophic” Wildfires in North America's Grassland Biome

Victoria M. Donovan, Dirac Twidwell, Daniel R. Uden, Tsegaye Tadesse, Brian D. Wardlow, Christine H. Bielski, Matthew O. Jones, Brady W. Allred, David E. Naugle, Craig R. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Wildfires are ecosystem-level drivers of structure and function in many vegetated biomes. While numerous studies have emphasized the benefits of fire to ecosystems, large wildfires have also been associated with the loss of ecosystem services and shifts in vegetation abundance. The size and number of wildfires are increasing across a number of regions, and yet the outcomes of large wildfire on vegetation at large-scales are still largely unknown. We introduce an exhaustive analysis of wildfire-scale vegetation response to large wildfires across North America's grassland biome. We use 18 years of a newly released vegetation data set combined with 1,390 geospatial wildfire perimeters and drought data to detect large-scale vegetation response among multiple vegetation functional groups. We found no evidence of persistent declines in vegetation driven by wildfire at the biome level. All vegetation functional groups exhibited relatively rapid recovery to pre wildfire ranges of variation across the Great Plains ecoregions, with the exception being a persistent decrease in the abundance of trees in the Northwestern Great Plains. Drought intensity magnified immediate vegetation response to wildfire. Persistent declines in vegetation cover were observed at the scale of single pixels (30 m), suggesting that these responses were localized and represent extreme cases within larger wildfires. Our findings echo over a century of research demonstrating a biome resilient to wildfire.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020EF001487
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • catastrophic wildfire
  • collapse
  • erosion
  • rangeland analysis platform
  • scale
  • state transition


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