Compilation by Robyn Darbyshire

Pausas, J. G. (2015). “Evolutionary fire ecology: lessons learned from pines.” Trends in Plant Science 20(5): 318-324.

Macroevolutionary studies of the genus Pinus provide the oldest current evidence of fire as an evolutionary pressure on plants and date back to ca. 125 million years ago (Ma). Microevolutionary studies show that fire traits are variable within and among populations, especially among those subject to different fire regimes. In addition, there is increasing evidence of an inherited genetic basis to variability in fire traits. Added together, pines provide compelling evidence that fire can exert an evolutionary pressure on plants and, thus, shape biodiversity. In addition, evolutionary fire ecology is providing insights to improve the management of pine forests under changing conditions. The lessons learned from pines may guide research on the evolutionary ecology of other taxa.

FULL TEXT LINK: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1360138515000539


Harpold, A. A., N. P. Molotch, et al. (2015). “Soil moisture response to snowmelt timing in mixed-conifer subalpine forests.” Hydrological Processes 29(12): 2782-2798.

Western US forest ecosystems and downstream water supplies are reliant on seasonal snowmelt. Complex feedbacks govern forest–snow interactions in which forests influence the distribution of snow and the timing of snowmelt but are also sensitive to snow water availability. Notwithstanding, few studies have investigated the influence of forest structure on snow distribution, snowmelt and soil moisture response. Using a multi-year record from co-located observations of snow depth and soil moisture, we evaluated the influence of forest-canopy position on snow accumulation and snow depth depletion, and associated controls on the timing of soil moisture response at Boulder Creek, Colorado, Jemez River Basin, New Mexico, and the Wolverton Basin, California. Forest-canopy controls on snow accumulation led to 12–42 cm greater peak snow depths in open versus under-canopy positions. Differences in accumulation and melt across sites resulted in earlier snow disappearance in open positions at Jemez and earlier snow disappearance in under-canopy positions at Boulder and Wolverton sites. Irrespective of net snow accumulation, we found that peak annual soil moisture was nearly synchronous with the date of snow disappearance at all sites with an average deviation of 12, 3 and 22 days at Jemez, Boulder and Wolverton sites, respectively. Interestingly, sites in the Sierra Nevada showed peak soil moisture prior to snow disappearance at both our intensive study site and the nearby snow telemetry stations. Our results imply that the duration of soil water stress may increase as regional warming or forest disturbance lead to earlier snow disappearance and soil moisture recession in subalpine forests.

FULL TEXT LINK: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/hyp.10400


Homyack, J. and A. Kroll (2014). “Slow Lives in the Fast Landscape: Conservation and Management of Plethodontid Salamanders in Production Forests of the United States.” Forests 5(11): 2750-2772.

Intensively-managed forest (IMF) ecosystems support environmental processes, retain biodiversity and reduce pressure to extract wood products from other forests, but may affect species, such as plethodontid salamanders, that are associated with closed canopies and possess limited vagility. We describe: (1) critical aspects of IMF ecosystems; (2) effectiveness of plethodontid salamanders as barometers of forest change; (3) two case studies of relationships between salamanders and coarse woody debris (CWD); and (4) research needs for effective management of salamanders in IMF ecosystems. Although plethodontid salamanders are sensitive to microclimate changes, their role as ecological indicators rarely have been evaluated quantitatively. Our case studies of CWD and salamanders in western and eastern forests demonstrated effects of species, region and spatial scale on the existence and strength of relationships between plethodontid species and a “critical” microhabitat variable. Oregon slender salamanders (Batrachoseps wrighti) were more strongly associated with abundance of CWD in managed second growth forests than ensatina salamanders (Ensatina eschscholtzii). Similarly, CWD was not an important predictor of abundance of Appalachian salamanders in managed hardwood forest. Gaining knowledge of salamanders in IMF ecosystems is critical to reconciling ecological and economic objectives of intensive forest management, but faces challenges in design and implementation.

FULL TEXT LINK: http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/5/11/2750


Donovan, S. B., M. Penelope, et al. (2014). “Is proportion burned severely related to daily area burned?” Environmental Research Letters 9(6): 064011.

The ecological effects of forest fires burning with high severity are long-lived and have the greatest impact on vegetation successional trajectories, as compared to low-to-moderate severity fires. The primary drivers of high severity fire are unclear, but it has been hypothesized that wind-driven, large fire-growth days play a significant role, particularly on large fires in forested ecosystems. Here, we examined the relative proportion of classified burn severity for individual daily areas burned that occurred during 42 large forest fires in central Idaho and western Montana from 2005 to 2007 and 2011. Using infrared perimeter data for wildfires with five or more consecutive days of mapped perimeters, we delineated 2697 individual daily areas burned from which we calculated the proportions of each of three burn severity classes (high, moderate, and low) using the differenced normalized burn ratio as mapped for large fires by the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity project. We found that the proportion of high burn severity was weakly correlated (Kendall τ = 0.299) with size of daily area burned (DAB). Burn severity was highly variable, even for the largest (95th percentile) in DAB, suggesting that other variables than fire extent influence the ecological effects of fires. We suggest that these results do not support the prioritization of large runs during fire rehabilitation efforts, since the underlying assumption in this prioritization is a positive relationship between severity and area burned in a day.

FULL TEXT LINK: http://stacks.iop.org/1748-9326/9/i=6/a=064011


Robichaud, P. R., H. Rhee, et al. (2014). “A synthesis of post-fire Burned Area Reports from 1972 to 2009 for western US Forest Service lands: trends in wildfire characteristics and post-fire stabilisation treatments and expenditures.” International Journal of Wildland Fire 23(7): 929-944.

Over 1200 post-fire assessment and treatment implementation reports from four decades (1970s–2000s) of western US forest fires have been examined to identify decadal patterns in fire characteristics and the justifications and expenditures for the post-fire treatments. The main trends found were: (1) the area burned by wildfire increased over time and the rate of increase accelerated after 1990; (2) the proportions of burned area assessed as low, moderate and high burn severity likely have remained fairly constant over time, but the use of satellite imagery that began c. 2000 increased the resolution of burn severity assessments leading to an apparent decreased proportion of high burn severity during the 2000s; (3) treatment justifications reflected regional concerns (e.g. soil productivity in areas of timber harvest) and generally reflected increased human encroachment in the wildland–urban interface; (4) modifications to roads were the most frequently recommended post-fire treatment type; (5) seeding was the most frequently used land treatment, but declined in use over time; (6) use of post-fire agricultural straw mulch has steadily increased because of proven success; and (7) the greatest post-fire expenditures have been for land treatments applied over large areas to protect important resources (e.g. municipal water sources).

FULL TEXT LINK: http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/WF13192