12 Jun 2023
 | 12 Jun 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Forest Types Show Divergent Biophysical Responses After Fire: Challenges to Ecological Modeling

Surendra Shrestha, Christopher A. Williams, Brendan M. Rogers, John Rogan, and Dominik Kulakowski

Abstract. Understanding vegetation recovery after fire is critical for predicting vegetation-mediated ecological dynamics in future climates. However, information characterizing vegetation recovery patterns after fire and their determinants are lacking over large geographical extents. This study uses Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) leaf area index (LAI) and albedo to characterize patterns of post-fire biophysical dynamics across the western United States (US) and further examines the influence of topo-climatic variables on the recovery of LAI and albedo at two different time intervals, 10 and 20 years post-fire, using a random forest model. Recovery patterns were derived for all wildfires that occurred between 1986 and 2017 across seven forest types and 21 level III ecoregions of the western US. We found differences in characteristic trajectories of post-fire vegetation recovery across forest types and ecoclimatic settings. LAI in some forest types recovered only 60 %–70 % by 25 years after fire while it recovered 120 % to 150 % of the pre-fire levels in other forest types, with higher absolute post-fire changes in forest types and ecoregions that had a higher initial pre-fire LAI. Our random forest results showed very little influence of fire severity on the recovery of both summer LAI and albedo at both post-fire time intervals. Post-fire vegetation recovery was most strongly controlled by elevation, with faster rates of recovery in lower elevations. Similarly, annual precipitation and average summer temperature had significant impacts on the post-fire recovery of vegetation. Full recovery was seldom observed when annual precipitation was less than 500 mm and average summer temperature was above the optimal range i.e., 15–20 °C. Climate influences, particularly annual precipitation, was a major driver of post-fire summer albedo change through its impact on ecological succession. This study provides quantitative measure of primary controls that could be used to improve the modelling of ecosystem dynamics post-fire.

Surendra Shrestha et al.

Status: open (until 19 Oct 2023)

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Surendra Shrestha et al.

Surendra Shrestha et al.


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Short summary
Here, we generated chronosequences of Leaf area index (LAI) and surface albedo as a function of time since fire to demonstrate the differences in characteristic trajectories of post-fire biophysical changes across seven forest types and 21 level III ecoregions of the western United States (US) using satellite data from different sources. We also demonstrated how climate played the dominant role in the recovery of LAI and albedo after 10 and 20 years of wildfire events in the western US.