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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Forest resilience declines in face of wildfires in a warmer climate

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December 12, 2017 Colorado State University read full ScienceDaily article here

The forests you see today are not what you will see in the future. That’s the overarching finding from a new study on the resilience of Rocky Mountain forests.

….They wanted to understand if and how changing climate over the last several decades affected post-fire tree regeneration, a key indicator of forest resilience.

They found sobering results, including significant decreases in tree regeneration following wildfires in the early 21st century, a period markedly hotter and drier than the late 20th century. The research team said that with a warming climate, forests are less resilient after wildfires.

….Stevens-Rumann said that while trees similar to the ones that burned have typically been planted on a fire-ravaged site, that may no longer be the smartest approach….

Managers may want to plant species that are adapted to the current and future climate, not the climate of the past,” she said. “There also are areas that could support certain tree species but there isn’t any regeneration currently; these are the ideal places to plant after a fire.”

The problem could also be addressed when a fire happens.

Another strategy is to foster fires burning under less extreme conditions, so that more trees survive to provide seed for future forests,” said Penny Morgan, professor at the University of Idaho and co-author of the study. “When fires are patchy, more areas are within reach of a surviving tree.”…

Camille S. Stevens-Rumann, Kerry B. Kemp, Philip E. Higuera, Brian J. Harvey, Monica T. Rother, Daniel C. Donato, Penelope Morgan, Thomas T. Veblen. Evidence for declining forest resilience to wildfires under climate change. Ecology Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12889

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