Connectivity of forest fuels and surface fire regimes
The connectivity of a landscape can influence the dynamics of disturbances such as fire. In fire-adapted ecosystems, fire suppression may increase the connectivity of fuels and could result in qualitatively different fire patterns and behavior. We used a spatially explicit forest simulation model developed for the Sierra Nevada to investigate how the frequency of surface fires influences the connectivity of burnable area within a forest stand, and how this connectivity varies along an elevation gradient. Connectivity of burnable area was a function of fuel loads, fuel moisture, and fuel bed bulk density. Our analysis isolated the effects of fuel moisture and fuel bed bulk density to emphasize the influence of fuel loads on connectivity. Connectivity was inversely related to fire frequency and generally increased with elevation. However, certain conditions of fuel moisture and fuel bed bulk density obscured these relationships. Nonlinear patterns in connectivity across the elevation gradient occurred as a result of gradients in fuel loads and fuel bed bulk density that are simulated by the model. Changes in connectivity with elevation could affect how readily fires can spread from low elevation sites to higher elevations.
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