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Fire and aquatic ecosystems in forested biomes of North America

January 1, 1999

Synthesis of the literature suggests that physical, chemical, and biological elements of a watershed interact with long-term climate to influence fire regime, and that these factors, in concordance with the postfire vegetation mosaic, combine with local-scale weather to govern the trajectory and magnitude of change following a fire event. Perturbation associated with hydrological processes is probably the primary factor influencing postfire persistence of fishes, benthic macroinvertebrates, and diatoms in fluvial systems. It is apparent that salmonids have evolved strategies to survive perturbations occurring at the frequency of wildland fires (100a??102 years), but local populations of a species may be more ephemeral. Habitat alteration probably has the greatest impact on individual organisms and local populations that are the least mobile, and reinvasion will be most rapid by aquatic organisms with high mobility. It is becoming increasingly apparent that during the past century fire suppression has altered fire regimes in some vegetation types, and consequently, the probability of large stand-replacing fires has increased in those areas. Current evidence suggests, however, that even in the case of extensive high-severity fires, local extirpation of fishes is patchy, and recolonization is rapid. Lasting detrimental effects on fish populations have been limited to areas where native populations have declined and become increasingly isolated because of anthropogenic activities. A strategy of protecting robust aquatic communities and restoring aquatic habitat structure and life history complexity in degraded areas may be the most effective means for insuring the persistence of native biota where the probability of large-scale fires has increased.