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Relationships between annual plant productivity, nitrogen deposition and fire size in low-elevation California desert scrub

November 1, 2014

Although precipitation is correlated with fire size in desert ecosystems and is typically used as an indirect surrogate for fine fuel load, a direct link between fine fuel biomass and fire size has not been established. In addition, nitrogen (N) deposition can affect fire risk through its fertilisation effect on fine fuel production. In this study, we examine the relationships between fire size and precipitation, N deposition and biomass with emphasis on identifying biomass and N deposition thresholds associated with fire spreading across the landscape. We used a 28-year fire record of 582 burns from low-elevation desert scrub to evaluate the relationship of precipitation, N deposition and biomass with the distribution of fire sizes using quantile regression. We found that models using annual biomass have similar predictive ability to those using precipitation and N deposition at the lower to intermediate portions of the fire size distribution. No distinct biomass threshold was found, although within the 99th percentile of the distribution fire size increased with greater than 125 g m–2 of winter fine fuel production. The study did not produce an N deposition threshold, but did validate the value of 125 g m–2 of fine fuel for spread of fires.

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