Tracking wildfire driven regime shifts across a biome: Implications for ecosystem restoration

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Victoria Donovan

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Wildfires are implicated as ecosystem-level drivers of regime shifts in vegetated biomes across the globe. Policies and programs abound to mitigate for post-wildfire vegetation responses, encouraging large-scale reseeding campaigns and mitigation of bare ground to restore recently burned areas. In an exhaustive analysis of wildfire-scale vegetation response to large wildfires across an entire grassland biome, we assess the persistence of vegetation change to detect wildfire driven regime shifts. There was no indication of large-scale persistent transitions driven by wildfire in the Great Plains. Immediate wildfire and drought induced signals of functional group response to wildfire were so recurrent within wildfire perimeters that these signals were evident at the scale of the wildfire across the biome. In contrast, a persistent change in functional group abundance indicative of a regime shift occurred for only one of the five assessed functional groups (trees) within one of 11 ecoregions assessed. Traditional perspectives of wildfire driven collapse were restricted to the 30-meter pixel level of analysis, suggesting that many of the transitions described in policies and land management frameworks are localized and represent extreme cases within larger wildfires. Rather than driving undesirable regime shifts, large wildfires may help restore grassland biomes at a large scale where fire suppression has altered fire regimes. Our results support that restoration of ecological processes like wildfire can assist rather than hinder large-scale ecosystem restoration goals.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration