Management strategy influences landscape patterns of high-severity burn patches in the southwestern United States

Megan P. Singleton, Andrea E. Thode, Andrew J. Sánchez Meador, Jose M. Iniguez, Jens T. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Context: Spatial patterns of high-severity wildfire in forests affect vegetation recovery pathways, watershed dynamics, and wildlife habitat across landscapes. Yet, less is known about contemporary trends in landscape patterns of high-severity burn patches or how differing federal fire management strategies have influenced such patterns. Objectives: We assessed fires managed for ecological/resource benefit and fires that are fully suppressed and investigated: (1) whether spatial patterns of high-severity patches differed by management strategy, (2) whether spatial patterns were related to fire size and percent high-severity fire, and (3) temporal trends in spatial patterns. Methods: We examined high-severity spatial patterns within large fires using satellite-derived burn severity data from 735 fires that burned from 1984 to 2017 in Arizona and New Mexico, USA. We calculated a suite of spatial pattern metrics for each individual fire and developed a method to identify those which best explained variation among fires. Results: Compared to managed fires, spatial pattern metrics in suppression fires showed greater patch homogeneity. All spatial pattern metrics showed significant relationships with fire size and percent high-severity fire for both management strategies. Mean annual spatiotemporal trends in suppression fires have moved toward smaller, more complex, fragmented patches since the early 2000s. Conclusions: Increases in fire size and proportion high-severity fire are driving more homogenous patches regardless of management type, with percent high-severity more strongly driving average temporal trends. Anticipated shifts in fire size and severity will likely result in larger, more contiguous, and simple-shaped patches of high-severity fire within southwestern conifer forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3429-3449
Number of pages21
JournalLandscape Ecology
Volume36
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Fire ecology
  • Heterogeneity
  • High-severity
  • Patch dynamics
  • RdNBR
  • Spatial pattern
  • Stand replacing patches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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