Quantifying the carbon balance of forest restoration and wildfire under projected climate in the fire-prone southwestern us

Matthew D. Hurteau

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21 Scopus citations


Climate projections for the southwestern US suggest a warmer, drier future and have the potential to impact forest carbon (C) sequestration and post-fire C recovery. Restoring forest structure and surface fire regimes initially decreases total ecosystem carbon (TEC), but can stabilize the remaining C by moderating wildfire behavior. Previous research has demonstrated that fire maintained forests can store more C over time than fire suppressed forests in the presence of wildfire. However, because the climate future is uncertain, I sought to determine the efficacy of forest management to moderate fire behavior and its effect on forest C dynamics under current and projected climate. I used the LANDIS-II model to simulate carbon dynamics under early (2010-2019), mid (2050-2059), and late (2090-2099) century climate projections for a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) dominated landscape in northern Arizona. I ran 100-year simulations with two different treatments (control, thin and burn) and a 1 in 50 chance of wildfire occurring. I found that control TEC had a consistent decline throughout the simulation period, regardless of climate. Thin and burn TEC increased following treatment implementation and showed more differentiation than the control in response to climate, with late-century climate having the lowest TEC. Treatment efficacy, as measured by mean fire severity, was not impacted by climate. Fire effects were evident in the cumulative net ecosystem exchange (NEE) for the different treatments. Over the simulation period, 32.8-48.9% of the control landscape was either C neutral or a C source to the atmosphere and greater than 90% of the thin and burn landscape was a moderate C sink. These results suggest that in southwestern ponderosa pine, restoring forest structure and surface fire regimes provides a reasonable hedge against the uncertainty of future climate change for maintaining the forest C sink.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0169275
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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