Post-fire Recovery Patterns in Southwestern Forests

Science Center Objects

High-severity crown fires in Southwestern dry-conifer forests — resulting from fire suppression, fuel buildups, and drought — are creating large treeless areas that are historically unprecedented in size. These recent stand-replacing fires have reset extensive portions of Southwest forest landscapes, fostering post-fire successional vegetation that can alter ecological recovery trajectories away from pre-fire forest types toward persistent non-forested ecosystems (shrublands and grasslands). Our team studies areas that burned during the recent persistent regional drought (ca. 1996-2014) that are recovering under "hotter drought" conditions that foreshadow projected future climate trends. Our field surveys document a wide variety of post-fire ecological responses following stand-replacing crown fires in diverse forest settings, including potential "type conversion" to non-forest. These research results improve understanding of Southwest landscape changes in response to land use and climate, contributing to informed land management decisions regarding adaptation or mitigation strategies to sustain forests under projected “hotter drought” conditions.

Wildfire
A wildfire burning. USGS photo.

Our field surveys document a wide variety of post-fire ecological responses following stand-replacing crown fires, including potential type conversion. These research results improve understanding of Southwest landscape changes in response to early-stage climate warming, contributing to informed land management decisions regarding adaptation or mitigation strategies to address increasingly the “hotter drought” conditions of regional climate projections.

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