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Project ID: 11-1-1-7

Year: 2011

Date Started: 10/01/2011

Date Completed: 11/27/2015

Title: Paths of Recovery: Landscape Variability in Forest Structure, Function and Fuels After the 1988 Yellowstone Fires

Project Proposal Abstract: Understanding succession following severe wildfire is increasingly important for forest managers in western North America and critical for anticipating the resilience of forested landscapes to changing environmental conditions. Successional trajectories set the stage for future carbon storage, abundance and distribution of fuels, and habitat for many species. Early successional forests are increasing throughout the West in response to greater fire activity, but few long-term studies have considered succession following stand-replacing wildfires over large areas. The size and heterogeneity of the 1988 Yellowstone fires created novel opportunities to study succession at an unprecedented scale following severe fire, and we have studied the consequences of these fires for >20 years. We propose to re-sample our long-term vegetation plots within the area burned by the 1988 fires and test hypotheses in the context of three overarching questions: (1) Are stand structure and function beginning to converge twenty-five years after the Yellowstone Fires, and what mechanisms may contribute to convergence or divergence? Heterogeneity in forest structure was the rule after the 1988 fires, and postfire lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) densities ranged from zero to >500,000 trees/ha. The post-1988 cohort of lodgepole pine is reaching a time of critical transitions in structure and function. To quantify change in stand structure and function, we will re-sample vegetation in 90 plots (0.25 ha) representative of the range of conditions found within the burned area. To elucidate potential mechanisms underpinning vegetation changes, we will resample foliar nitrogen, cone production, and soil nutrients in 25 of the 90 plots. (2) Are plant community composition and species richness converging or diverging across gradients in local fire severity, post-fire lodgepole pine density, elevation and soil type a quarter-century after the 1988 fires? A central objective in our research has been to understand the relative influence of contingent factors (e.g., local fire severity) vs. deterministic factors (e.g., elevation, soils) on postfire ecosystem development, and how these influences may change through time. We have also tracked selected plant species of concern (e.g., Populus tremuloides, Cirsium arvense) since the 1988 fires. We will re-sample community composition in the 90 plots (see Question 1), plus 300 plots within three 1 km x 1 km grids established in 1989, and 552 plots within nine burned patches established in 1990. These plots represent a broad range of fire severities, patch sizes, elevation/soil characteristics, and postfire pine sapling densities. (3) How do canopy and surface fuels vary across the postfire landscape, and how will the variation in fuels influence potential fire behavior a quarter century post-fire? Successional dynamics ultimately generate the fuels available for future fires. From field data in the 90 plots (see Question 1) and re-sampling of 11 fuels plots from 1997, we will quantify surface and canopy fuels across the postfire landscape then use the fuels data and the fire model NEXUS to estimate potential fire behavior. We will identify weather conditions under which certain fire behavior thresholds are crossed, e.g., moisture and wind values that permit torching or crowning to occur in young postfire forests. Overall, results from the proposed study will enhance understanding of succession after one of the most notorious fires of the 20thC. Our findings will aid managers in evaluating other recent (and future) fires in the Mountain West; determining where postfire trajectories may lead to desirable vs. undesirable conditions; and anticipating potential fire behavior a quarter century after fire. Yellowstone's postfire forests may serve as benchmarks for forests throughout the region and effective sentinels of change for the Rockies.

Principal Investigator: Monica G. Turner

Agency/Organization: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Branch or Dept: Department of Zoology

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Kim L. Moreland

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research & Sponsored Programs

Budget Contact

Kim L. Moreland

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research & Sponsored Programs

Co-Principal Investigator

William H Romme

Colorado State University

Department of Forest, Rangeland & Watershed Stewardship

Co-Principal Investigator

Daniel B. Tinker

University of Wyoming

Department of Botany

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Northern Rockies








Yellowstone National Park

Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
view or print   97 Book Climate change and novel disturbance regimes in national park landscapes
view or print   3615 Journal Article Ecology
view or print   3651 Journal Article Ecological Monographs
view or print   3706 Journal Article Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
view or print   3494 Journal Article Forest Ecology and Management
view or print   3527 Journal Article Yellowstone Science
view or print   3645 Journal Article Frontiers in Ecology and the Enviroment
view or print   3646 Journal Article Ecosphere
view or print   3649 Journal Article Ecological Applications
view or print   3746 Journal Article International Journal of Wildland Fire
view or print   3600 Journal Article Forest Ecology and Management
view or print   363 MS Thesis Microhabitat conditions rather than landscape patterns affect post-dispersal seed removal in burned
view or print   7556 Invited Paper/Presentation Changing climate and novel fire regimes alter tree recruitment and postfire succession in northern c
    7557 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Fire and climate interact to foster an expansion of seedling aspen after the 1988 Yellowstone Fires.
    7558 Invited Paper/Presentation Natural disturbances: Lessons from Yellowstone.
view or print   7339 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Surface and canopy fuels vary widely in 24-yr old postfire lodgepole pine forests
view or print   7340 Poster Landscape patterns of early postfire lodgepole pine regeneration dominate...
view or print   7599 Poster How has a changing environment affected a postfire cohort of aspen 25 yrs after the 1988 fires?
view or print   7600 Poster Postfire plant community dynamics in subalpine forests: the first 25 years after the 1988 fires
view or print go to website 7736 Field Demonstration/Tour Fire History and Fire Ecology in Yellowstone - A Field Tour
view or print go to website 7623 Invited Paper/Presentation Climate change and novel disturbance regimes in national park landscapes.
  go to website 7622 Invited Paper/Presentation Fires and beetles and climate, oh my! Science, management and conservation in Yellowstone.
view or print   7430 Poster Surface and canopy fuels vary widely in 24-yr old postfire lodgepole pine forests
view or print   7747 Poster Soil microbial communities vary with elevation and stand productivity in 27-yr-old postfire lodgepol

Supporting Documents

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