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Climatic and Landscape Influences on Fire Regimes from 1984 to 2010 in the Western United States.

Abstract

An improved understanding of the relative influences of climatic and landscape controls on multiple fire regime components is needed to enhance our understanding of modern fire regimes and how they will respond to future environmental change. To address this need, we analyzed the spatio-temporal patterns of fire occurrence, size, and severity of large fires (> 405 ha) in the western United States from 1984-2010. We assessed the associations of these fire regime components with environmental variables, including short-term climate anomalies, vegetation type, topography, and human influences, using boosted regression tree analysis. Results showed that large fire occurrence, size, and severity each exhibited distinctive spatial and spatio-temporal patterns, which were controlled by different sets of climate and landscape factors. Antecedent climate anomalies had the strongest influences on fire occurrence, resulting in the highest spatial synchrony. In contrast, climatic variability had weaker influences on fire size and severity and vegetation types were the most important environmental determinants of these fire regime components. Topography had moderately strong effects on both fire occurrence and severity, and human influence variables were most strongly associated with fire size. These results suggest a potential for the emergence of novel fire regimes due to the responses of fire regime components to multiple drivers at different spatial and temporal scales. Next-generation approaches for projecting future fire regimes should incorporate indirect climate effects on vegetation type changes as well as other landscape effects on multiple components of fire regimes.

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