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Fire Ecology, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 2

Changes in Fire Severity across Gradients of Climate, Fire Size, and Topography: A Landscape Ecological Perspective
Authors: Sandra L. Haire and Kevin McGarigal
Pages: 86-103
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0502086

Fire events contribute to landscape pattern at multiple spatial and temporal scales, and a landscape perspective can provide relevant information for assessing how a changing fire regime will influence pattern-process dynamics. We investigated how the amount and spatial arrangement of high-severity patches varied among 20 fires that occurred in Arizona and New Mexico, USA, across gradients in fire size and climate. The climate gradient was based on the Multivariate El Niño Southern Oscillation Index. In the southwestern US, cool dry conditions are prevalent in La Niña at one extreme, and at the other end, warm wet conditions occur in El Niño. Fires were generally larger in La Niña climates; however, several fires deviated from this trend. Moreover, some spatial properties of severity did not correspond to fire size or to changes in climate. Within the nine largest fires, we analyzed the influence of landscape characteristics defined by topographic discontinuity on spatial patterns of fire severity. Characteristics of topography altered spatial patterns of severity at some places within all the nine fires, and we identified thresholds where small changes in terrain resulted in dramatic effects on severity. From a management perspective, consideration of the spatial configuration of severely burned areas can help qualify judgments based on fire size or severity composition alone by linking pattern to ecological processes of interest. Furthermore, examination of individual fire events could lead to identification of climate contexts in which fires can meet management objectives for sustainable forests.

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