Legacy effects of fire size and severity on forest regeneration, recruitment, and wildlife activity in aspen forests
Forest Ecology and Management
Human activities and climate change are increasing the size and severity of wildfires globally, creating a need for research that links changes in fire regimes with community-level responses. The objective of this study was to understand how variability in fire regimes influences forest regeneration and recruitment patterns and wildlife activity at large temporal and spatial scales. Across 25 fires in five National Forests (Uinta-Wasatch-Cache NF, Ashley NF, Fishlake NF, Dixie NF, and Manti-La Sal NF) in the state of Utah, we examined aspen regeneration and recruitment levels, and wildlife and livestock fecal group counts along belt transects that spanned gradients of fire size and severity. Forest cover change was assessed by comparing pre-fire and post-fire satellite images. The fires dated from 1992 to 2002 and were at least 10 years old when this study was conducted. Fire size and severity were positively related to aspen regeneration (density of saplings) and recruitment (saplings >2 m in height). There was a significant fire size and severity interaction effect on aspen regeneration, such that the positive influence of fire size increased with greater fire severity (R2 = 0.40, P < 0.001). Change in the extent of aspen cover was not correlated with fire size. Deer and cattle became more dispersed with increasing fire size and severity, but elk activity showed no difference. Deer preferred low severity burn patches in smaller fires, but appeared to avoid low severity patches as fires became larger. Our results suggest that fire size and severity are important ecological filters that can interact to affect forest development and the distribution and abundance of large herbivores. Effective management of forest systems in response to altered fire regimes will require an understanding of the legacy effects of fire size and severity at the landscape scale.
Wan, HY. 2014. Legacy effects of fire size and severity on forest regeneration, recruitment, and wildlife activity in aspen forests. Forest Ecology and Management 329:59-68.