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Project ID: 16-1-04-8

Year: 2016

Date Started: 10/01/2016

Ending Date:  09/30/2019

Title: Mortality reconsidered: Testing and extending models of fire-–induced tree mortality across the US

Project Proposal Abstract: Forests represent a major source of carbon storage, drive numerous ecosystem processes, and have huge economic and social importance. Wildland and prescribed fires burn millions of forested acres annually, making accurate prediction of post-fire effects and the likelihood of fire-induced tree mortality essential for effective land management. There is a growing realization that current warming trends are often associated with increasing forest fire size, frequency, and severity (the number of trees killed). Escalating rates of tree mortality from fires may lead to substantial changes in forest structure and function, including increased carbon emissions as dead trees decompose and release stored carbon back to the atmosphere. Understanding of fire-induced tree mortality is essential for pre- and post-fire planning due to the importance influence of forests for animal and plant diversity, ecosystem processes and services, and global carbon cycling. In spite of its clear central importance, the underlying mechanisms of fire-caused tree mortality are poorly understood. Post-fire tree mortality has been traditionally modeled as a function of tree defenses (bark thickness) and fire injury (crown scorch, stem char). The same empirical models are all used to predict fire effects, from the fine-scale software tools for fire management planning in FOFEM, FFE-FVS, and BehavePlus to process-based succession models and Dynamic Global Vegetation Models of the terrestrial carbon cycle. Our proposals has three objectives: (1) Assemble an unprecedented database of 87,000 trees of 24 species across forested landscapes in the Western and Southeastern United States to formally validate existing fire-caused tree mortality models against independent datasets. Attempts at model validation have been nearly non-existent or restricted to a few species and geographic locations, making confidence in the general applicability of these models extremely limited. New models with inconsistent input requirements for model parameters also create challenges to incorporating into widely used software programs such as FOFEM. Using existing data we validate existing fire-induced tree mortality models and publish a publically available archive of our pooled dataset on post-fire tree mortality to encourage additional research on this subject. (2) Use the combined database to extend current models to predict post-fire mortality under different climate scenarios. The majority of the data collected for post-fire tree mortality has thus far failed to include climatic influences. In spite of this omission, there is strong evidence showing pre-fire drought stress affects post-fire tree survival. Our project would combine existing fire-induced mortality data with climate data to determine if accounting for climate increases model accuracy. This information will be incorporated into the widely used fire effects models in FOFEM, FFE-FVS, and BehavePlus to show the expected mortality given a range of pre-fire climate conditions. (3) Identify interactions and the magnitude of influence to provide insight into the mechanisms of fire-induced tree mortality. Fire-induced tree mortality is governed by a complex suite of factors that empirical models cannot address. Past research has shown the impact of such direct and indirect factors as past disturbance, stress, bark beetles, fungi, competition, season, and soil type on fire-induced tree mortality. We propose to use path analysis to examine how direct and indirect factors influence fire-induced tree mortality. Such an understanding is imperative to lay a strong foundation for future advances in process-based models of fire-induced mortality and to identify research gap priorities.

Principal Investigator: Sharon M. Hood

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: RMRS-Fire Sciences Lab-Missoula

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Budget Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Morgan J. Varner III

Forest Service

PNW-AirFire Research Team

Co-Principal Investigator

Phillip J. van Mantgem

USGS-Geological Survey

WERC-Redwood Field Station

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network


Northern Rockies










Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
  ID Type Title
view or print go to website 3772 Journal Article Forest Ecology and Management
view or print   3773 Journal Article Forest Ecology and Management
view or print go to website 3774 Journal Article Fire Ecology
    7946 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Prescribed fire research in the Sierra Nevada and beyond: NPS-USGS partnerships to restore a natura
    7947 Invited Paper/Presentation Drought, fire, and tree mortality
    7948 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Can prescribed fire promote resistance to drought?
    7949 Training Session Disentangling post-fire tree mortality
    7950 Training Session Post-fire tree mortality
  go to website 7951 Website Fire-Induced Tree Mortality
  go to website 7952 Website Mortality reconsidered: Testing and extending models of fire-induced tree mortality across the US. J

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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