Topographic and fire weather controls of fire refugia in forested ecosystems of northwestern North America

By: , and 



Fire refugia, sometimes referred to as fire islands, shadows, skips, residuals, or fire remnants, are an important element of the burn mosaic, but we lack a quantitative framework that links observations of fire refugia from different environmental contexts. Here, we develop and test a conceptual model for how predictability of fire refugia varies according to topographic complexity and fire weather conditions. Refugia were quantified as areas unburned or burned at comparatively low severity based on remotely sensed burn severity data. We assessed the relationship between refugia and a suite of terrain-related explanatory metrics by fitting a collection of boosted regression tree models. The models were developed for seven study fires that burned in conifer-dominated forested landscapes of the Western Cordillera of Canada between 2001 and 2014. We fit nine models, each for distinct levels of fire weather and terrain ruggedness. Our framework revealed that the predictability and abundance of fire refugia varied among these environmental settings. We observed highest predictability under moderate fire weather conditions and moderate terrain ruggedness (ROC-AUC = 0.77), and lowest predictability in flatter landscapes and under high fire weather conditions (ROC-AUC = 0.63–0.68). Catchment slope, local aspect, relative position, topographic wetness, topographic convergence, and local slope all contributed to discriminating where refugia occur but the relative importance of these topographic controls differed among environments. Our framework allows us to characterize the predictability of contemporary fire refugia across multiple environmental settings and provides important insights for ecosystem resilience, wildfire management, conservation planning, and climate change adaptation.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Topographic and fire weather controls of fire refugia in forested ecosystems of northwestern North America
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1632
Volume 7
Issue 12
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 1
Last page 18
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