Post-Fire Conifer Regeneration Under a Warming Climate: Will Severe Fire Be a Catalyst for Forest Loss?

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The Southwest U.S. is experiencing hotter droughts, which are contributing to more frequent, severe wildfires. These droughts also stress vegetation, which can make it more difficult for forests to recover after fire. Forest regeneration in burned areas may be limited because seeds have to travel long distances to recolonize, and when they do arrive, conditions are often unfavorably hot and dry...

The Southwest U.S. is experiencing hotter droughts, which are contributing to more frequent, severe wildfires. These droughts also stress vegetation, which can make it more difficult for forests to recover after fire. Forest regeneration in burned areas may be limited because seeds have to travel long distances to recolonize, and when they do arrive, conditions are often unfavorably hot and dry. Conifer forests in the region have demonstrated particular difficulty in recovering after fires, and in some cases have transformed into other ecosystem types, such as deciduous-dominated forests or grasslands. Such ecological transformations have implications not only for the plants and animals that depend on conifer forests for habitat, but also for the services that these forests provide humans.



Managers can support forest regeneration by planting tree seeds and seedlings, but effective response requires information on when and where such interventions would best be implemented. Focusing on conifer forests in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, this project aims to develop a tool that can support managers in planning for post-fire recovery activities. By exploring different scenarios of seed availability and short-term climate conditions, forecast maps will be developed that demonstrate potential forest regeneration patterns under wet or dry post-fire conditions and low or high seed input potential. Using this information, researchers will identify locations that could be particularly challenged to recover post-fire, and would be good candidates for seeding or planting efforts. The results of this project will support land managers with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service who are wishing to assess their needs for post-fire management activities.