Distant neighbors: recent wildfire patterns of the Madrean Sky Islands of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico

Fire Ecology
By: , and 




Information about contemporary fire regimes across the Sky Island mountain ranges of the Madrean Archipelago Ecoregion in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico can provide insight into how historical fire management and land use have influenced fire regimes, and can be used to guide fuels management, ecological restoration, and habitat conservation. To contribute to a better understanding of spatial and temporal patterns of fires in the region relative to environmental and anthropogenic influences, we augmented existing fire perimeter data for the US by mapping wildfires that occurred in the Mexican Sky Islands from 1985 to 2011.


A total of 254 fires were identified across the region: 99 fires in Mexico (μ = 3901 ha, σ = 5066 ha) and 155 in the US (μ = 3808 ha, σ = 8368 ha). The Animas, Chiricahua, Huachuca-Patagonia, and Santa Catalina mountains in the US, and El Pinito in Mexico had the highest proportion of total area burned (>50%) relative to Sky Island size. Sky Islands adjacent to the border had the greatest number of fires, and many of these fires were large with complex shapes. Wildfire occurred more often in remote biomes, characterized by evergreen woodlands and conifer forests with cooler, wetter conditions. The five largest fires (>25 000 ha) all occurred during twenty-first century droughts (2002 to 2003 and 2011); four of these were in the US and one in Mexico. Overall, high variation in fire shape and size were observed in both wetter and drier years, contributing to landscape heterogeneity across the region.


Future research on regional fire patterns, including fire severity, will enhance opportunities for collaborative efforts between countries, improve knowledge about ecological patterns and processes in the borderlands, and support long-term planning and restoration efforts.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Distant neighbors: recent wildfire patterns of the Madrean Sky Islands of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico
Series title Fire Ecology
DOI 10.1186/s42408-018-0012-x
Volume 15
Issue 2
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Western Geographic Science Center
Description 20 p.
First page 1
Last page 20
Country Mexico, United States
Other Geospatial Madrean Sky Islands
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