Ecosystems in western North America have evolved with wildfire and other important natural disturbances. Recent evidence suggests that ecosystem resilience (roughly speaking, the capacity to maintain structure and organization with recurrent disturbance) is an emergent property that develops over time as a result of non-stationary interactions among plant communities, local geography, climate, and past disturbances. These interactions occur at several spatial and temporal scales, with cross-scale connections, making relationships difficult to quantify and incorporate into management.
Fire-prone ecosystems have experienced tremendous changes over recent decades, largely as a result of human interactions and recent climate change. Recent increases in the size and severity of disturbances have led to unprecedented large-scale changes in landscape patterns and overall reductions in stability and resilience to natural disturbances. Management now and in the future hinges on the ability of managers to reincorporate natural disturbance patterns without incurring large-scale losses or subsequent undesired conversions to alternate states that are well outside their natural variability. To this end, ecologists are charged with quantifying past, current and future disturbance regimes to inform managers with ways to integrate disturbances, and the patch dynamics that support them, into their management decisions.
This oral session will address the concept of resilience to recurrent wildfire disturbances at a variety of spatial scales relevant to more ecologically-tuned management. Talks will focus on new research addressing a variety of crucial ecological implications for altered disturbance regimes, with an emphasis on directly relating the results back to restorative management of ecosystems. The session will begin by focusing on regional controls on contemporary fire regimes including weather/climate, fuels, topography, and their interactions at fine- to broad-scales, as well as the implications of future climate change on wildfire and vegetation patterns. Retrospective studies will then elucidate how landscape-level forest structural and compositional attributes in wildfire-prone systems have changed since the early twentieth century and how contemporary fires are currently altering these landscapes. The focus of the remaining talks will center around more synthetic concepts of landscape-level resilience to recurrent disturbances, how better to quantify resiliency, and what the implications are for managing for the sustainability of these systems.