Interactions between forest heterogeneity and surface fire regimes in the southern Sierra Nevada
Fire is a major agent of spatial pattern formation in forests, as it creates a mosaic of burned and unburned patches. While most research has focused on landscape-level patterns created by crown fires, millions of hectares of forests in North America are subject to surface fire regimes. A spatially explicit forest gap model developed for the Sierra Nevada was used to evaluate the influence of surface fire regimes on the heterogeneity of forest structure and composition within forest stands. Forest pattern was evaluated for a wide range of topographic positions in Sequoia National Park, California, to determine if repeated surface fires amplify existing spatial patterns. The spatial heterogeneity of some forest characteristics increased under a simulated fire regime relative to scenarios without fire. Although a distinct and regular fire-generated spatial pattern was not detected with an analysis of spatial autocorrelation, simulated surface fires did alter the spatial heterogeneity within a forest stand, primarily by degrading a regular structure that is imposed by competition for light in the absence of fire. The interaction between surface fires and forest pattern may be qualitatively different from that which occurs in forests subject to crown fires. As such, what has been learned about forests dominated by crown fires may not apply to forests subject to surface fire regimes.
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