UW-Madison News: Drought alters recovery of Rocky Mountain Forests after fire

CONTACT: Brian Harvey, (650) 521-1988,

brianjamesharvey@gmail.com and Monica Turner, (608) 262-2592, turnermg@wisc.edu

DOWNLOAD PHOTOS: https://uwmadison.box.com/wildfire-recovery


MADISON – A changing climate is altering the ability of Rocky Mountain forests to recover from wildfire, according to a new study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

When warm, dry conditions lead to drought in the years following fires, it impedes the growth and establishment of vulnerable new post-fire seedlings. The study also shows that forest recovery has been negatively affected by increased distances between burned areas and the sources of seeds that typically replace trees lost to fire.

“Fires that are followed by warm, dry conditions offer us a window into the future,” says Brian Harvey, lead author of the study and a former University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student in the laboratory of Monica Turner, E.P. Odum Professor of Ecology and Vilas Research Professor of Zoology. Harvey is now a postdoctoral Smith Fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“From all the best available data and modeling, and expectations about future climate, these are the kinds of fires and post-fire climates that we’re going to see more of in the future,” he says.

The new data positions researchers to better understand how forests could change in coming decades and may yield valuable information for the development of robust simulation models. Turner says the dataset – which is the first to comprehensively demonstrate the impact of drought on forest recovery in the context of a changing climate – “provides unambiguous evidence that the climate conditions following fires are really going to matter.”

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