Effects of Fire on Landscape Heterogeneity in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

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Journal of Vegetation Science

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A map of burn severity resulting from the 1988 fires that occurred in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) was derived from Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) imagery and used to assess the isolation of burned areas, the heterogeneity that resulted from fires burning under moderate and severe burning conditions, and the relationship between heterogeneity and fire size. About 80% of the park is covered with coniferous forests dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia). The majority of severely burned areas were within close proximity (50 to 200 m) to unburned or lightly burned areas, suggesting that few burned sites are very far from potential sources of propagules for plant re-establishment. Fires that occurred under moderate burning conditions early during the 1988 fire season resulted in a lower proportion of crown fire than fires that occurred under severe burning conditions later in the season. Increased dominance and contagion of burn severity classes and decrease in the edge:area ratio for later fires indicated a slightly more aggregated burn pattern compared to early fires. The proportion of burned area in different burn severity classes varied as a function of daily fire size. When daily area burned was relatively low, the proportion of burned area in each burn severity class varied widely. When daily burned area exceeded 1250 ha, the burned area contained about 50% crown fire, 30% severe surface burn, and 20% light surface burn. Understanding the effect of fire on landscape heterogeneity is important because the kinds, amounts, and spatial distribution of burned and unburned areas may influence the reestablishment of plant species on burned sites.