Understanding Fire-caused Vegetation Type Conversion in Southwestern Conifer Forests under Current and Future Climate Conditions

Science Center Objects

Fire size, frequency, overall area burned, and severity are increasing across many vegetation types in the southwestern U.S. In many cases, large contiguous areas are burning repeatedly at high severity, triggering vegetation type conversions (VTC), where once-dominant coniferous forests fail to return to their pre-fire state, often transitioning to shrub- or grass-dominated systems. Loss of th...

Fire size, frequency, overall area burned, and severity are increasing across many vegetation types in the southwestern U.S. In many cases, large contiguous areas are burning repeatedly at high severity, triggering vegetation type conversions (VTC), where once-dominant coniferous forests fail to return to their pre-fire state, often transitioning to shrub- or grass-dominated systems. Loss of these forests affects biodiversity, ecosystem services, and culturally-valued resources. The science and management communities, however, currently lack a comprehensive understanding of VTC in this region.



This study will help identify and fill sizable research gaps by synthesizing manager observations and the current scientific body of research on fire-caused VTC in southwestern conifer forests. Researchers will solicit input and perspectives from an advisory expert panel consisting of natural and cultural federal, tribal, state, local, and private representatives, and scientists actively engaged in VTC research. Researchers will focus on creating a peer-reviewed, state-of-the-science synthesis publication on the mechanisms of resilience and VTC response, highlighting current gaps in the understanding of fire-driven VTC in coniferous forests of the Southwest. The products from this research should help inform long-standing fire management goals in southwestern conifer forests such as maintaining sustainable landscapes, biological legacies, and native biodiversity.