Landscape-scale effects of fire severity on mixed-conifer and red fir forest structure in Yosemite National Park

Forest Ecology and Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

While fire shapes the structure of forests and acts as a keystone process, the details of how fire modifies forest structure have been difficult to evaluate because of the complexity of interactions between fires and forests. We studied this relationship across 69.2 km2 of Yosemite National Park, USA, that was subject to 32 fires ⩾40 ha between 1984 and 2010. Forests types included ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), white fir-sugar pine (Abies concolor/Pinus lambertiana), and red fir (Abies magnifica). We estimated and stratified burned area by fire severity using the Landsat-derived Relativized differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (RdNBR). Airborne LiDAR data, acquired in July 2010, measured the vertical and horizontal structure of canopy material and landscape patterning of canopy patches and gaps. Increasing fire severity changed structure at the scale of fire severity patches, the arrangement of canopy patches and gaps within fire severity patches, and vertically within tree clumps. Each forest type showed an individual trajectory of structural change with increasing fire severity. As a result, the relationship between estimates of fire severity such as RdNBR and actual changes appears to vary among forest types. We found three arrangements of canopy patches and gaps associated with different fire severities: canopy-gap arrangements in which gaps were enclosed in otherwise continuous canopy (typically unburned and low fire severities); patch-gap arrangements in which tree clumps and gaps alternated and neither dominated (typically moderate fire severity); and open-patch arrangements in which trees were scattered across open areas (typically high fire severity).


Compared to stands outside fire perimeters, increasing fire severity generally resulted first in loss of canopy cover in lower height strata and increased number and size of gaps, then in loss of canopy cover in higher height strata, and eventually the transition to open areas with few or no trees. However, the estimated fire severities at which these transitions occurred differed for each forest type. Our work suggests that low severity fire in red fir forests and moderate severity fire in ponderosa pine and white fir-sugar pine forests would restore vertical and horizontal canopy structures believed to have been common prior to the start of widespread fire suppression in the early 1900s. The fusion of LiDAR and Landsat data identified post-fire structural conditions that would not be identified by Landsat alone, suggesting a broad applicability of combining Landsat and LiDAR data for landscape-scale structural analysis for fire management.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Landscape-scale effects of fire severity on mixed-conifer and red fir forest structure in Yosemite National Park
Series title Forest Ecology and Management
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2012.08.044
Volume 287
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 15 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Forest Ecology and Management
First page 17
Last page 31
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Yosemite National Park