Spatial and temporal variation of fire regimes in a mixed conifer forest landscape, Southern Cascades, California, USA

R. Matthew Beaty, Alan H. Taylor

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Aim: In this study, we evaluated the fire-forest mosaic of a mixed conifer forest landscape by testing the hypothesis that pre-fire suppression fire regime parameters vary with species composition (tree species), and environment (i.e. slope aspect, slope position, elevation). Location: Our study was conducted in the 1587 ha Cub Creek Research Natural Area (CCRNA), Lassen National Forest, CA, USA. Methods: We quantified the return interval, seasonal occurrence, size, rotation period, and severity of fires using dendroecology. Results: Slope aspect, potential soil moisture, forest composition, and fire regime parameters in our study area co-vary. Median composite and point fire return intervals (FRI) were longest on higher, cooler, more mesic, north-facing (NF) slopes covered with white fir (Abies concolor), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) - white fir, and red fir (A. magnifica) - white fir forests, shortest on the dry, south-facing (SF) slopes covered with ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) - white fir forests and intermediate on west-facing slopes dominated by white fir - sugar pine (P. lambertiana) - incense cedar (Libocedrus decurrens) forests. The spatial pattern for length of fire rotation (FR) was the same as that for FRI. Fires in CCRNA mixed conifer forests occurred mainly (90%) in the dormant season. Size of burns in CCRNA mixed conifer forests were generally small (mean = 106 ha), however, during certain drought years widespread fires burned across fuel breaks and spread throughout the watershed. Fire severity was mainly high on upper slopes, low on lower slopes and moderate and low severity on middle slopes. Patterns of fire severity also varied with slope aspect. Fire frequency decreased dramatically in CCRNA after 1905. Conclusions: In CCRNA, fire regime parameters [e.g. FRI, fire extent, FR, fire severity] varied widely with species composition, slope aspect and slope position. There was also temporal variation in fire extent with the most widespread fires occurring during drought years. The important contributions of topography and climate to variation in the fire regime indicates that exogenous factors play a key role in shaping the fire-forest structure mosaic and that the fire-forest structure mosaic is more variable, less predictable and less stable than previously thought. Finally, some characteristics of the fire regime (i.e. fire severity, season of burn) in CCRNA are different than those described for other mixed conifer forests and this suggests that there are geographical differences in mixed conifer fire regimes along the Pacific slope.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)955-966
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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