Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-1-2017

Publication Title

Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America

ISSN

1051-0761

Volume

27

Issue

6

First Page

1746

Last Page

1760

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1563

PubMed ID

28434190

Abstract

This study examines spatially variable stand structure and fire–climate relationships at a low elevation forest–grassland ecotone in west central British Columbia, Canada. Fire history reconstructions were based on samples from 92 fire‐scarred trees and stand demography from 27 plots collected over an area of about 7 km2. We documented historical chronologies of widespread fires and localized grassland fires between AD 1600 and 1900. Relationships between fire events, reconstructed values of the Palmer Drought Severity Index, and annual precipitation were examined using superposed epoch and bivariate event analyses. Widespread fires occurred during warm, dry years and were preceded by multiple anomalously dry, warm years. Localized fires that affected only grassland‐proximal forests were more frequent than widespread fires. These localized fires showed a lagged, positive relationship with wetter conditions. The landscape pattern of forest structure provided further evidence of complex fire activity with multiple plots shown to have experienced low‐, mixed‐, and/or high‐severity fires over the last four centuries. We concluded that this forest–grassland ecotone was characterized by fires of mixed severity, dominated by frequent, low‐severity fires punctuated by widespread fires of moderate to high severity. This landscape‐level variability in fire–climate relationships and patterns in forest structure has important implications for fire and grassland management in west central British Columbia and similar environments elsewhere. Forest restoration techniques such as prescribed fire and thinning are oftentimes applied at the forest–grassland ecotone on the basis that historically high frequency, low‐severity fires defined the character of past fire activity. This study provides forest managers and policy makers with important information on mixed‐severity fire activity at a low elevation forest–grassland ecotone, a crucial prerequisite for the effective management of these complex ecosystems.

Comments

© 2017 by the Ecological Society of America

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