Drought Changes Climate Of Rocky Mountain Forests After Fire

Posted: Mar 22 2016, 6:13am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 22 2016, 7:32am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Drought Changes Cimate of Rocky Mountain Forests After Fire
This photo shows very sparse post-fire tree regeneration following the Beaver Creek Fire (near Yellowstone National Park in 2000), which was followed by three years of severe drought. This photo was taken far from the edge of a stand-replacing burn patch -- away from surviving seed sources. Courtesy of Brian Harvey
  • Dry Conditions change Climate of Forests after Fires

The dry conditions have changed the climate of forests after fires broke out in them.

The changes in climate have been phenomenal in the Rocky Mountain forests. The recovery of these thick luxuriant green areas after the eruption of wildfires in them has been slow.

The study was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography. Hot, dry conditions normally lead to drought especially in the years after the occurrence of fires.

The growth of post-fire seedlings is hampered severely due to these conditions. The reforestation process is long and arduous since the burnt sites are at great distances from each other. Also the seedlings that replace the trees do not have a fixed source. 

Fires that are replaced by dry and hot conditions offer us an opportunity to peer into the times that are yet to come. The best information and latest models prove that such scenarios will be a common occurrence in future times. Forests could change radically in the coming times. 

"Fires that are followed by warm, dry conditions offer us a window into the future," says Brian Harvey, lead author of the study and a former University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student in the laboratory of Monica Turner, E.P. Odum Professor of Ecology and Vilas Research Professor of Zoology. Harvey is now a postdoctoral Smith Fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder.

"From all the best available data and modeling, and expectations about future climate, these are the kinds of fires and post-fire climates that we're going to see more of in the future," he says.

Simulations models show how such trends of drought and devastation could be reversed via a reforestation process that is slow and painstakingly difficult. Following fires, the climate changes. So steps need to be taken to replete the depleted forest flora. 

The Rocky Mountain forests are used to fires erupting in them. Many species of trees have cones that are opened by fire. These seed cones release thousands of spores when they get burnt.

The recovery of forests may be a whole different ball game after the devastation of fires in the future. The years following the forest fire are dry and hot.

Over 184 sites where 11 wildfires had raged were studied between 1994 and 2003. About 10,000 tree seedlings were also examined as a part of the research. 

"Fires that are followed by drought -- which we are very likely going to see more of with climate change -- really do set a new context in which these forests are not recovering as quickly," says Harvey.

"It's a double whammy because even if seeds can get to a burned patch, they still need to survive once they get there. That may be much harder to do in a warmer, drier climate."

Several pieces of date were collected. Then everything was laid out for analysis and the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle finally began to fit and they composed quite a picture.

Climate records and drought occurrences were gathered as part of the investigation. Some tree species were negatively affected by the climatic conditions and droughts.

Other species were not affected in so dire a manner. Thus it was proved that shifts in the composition of forest flora was likely following drought and fires. This was a natural evolutionary trend.

The growth of the trees was slowed down. Since they take hundreds of years to grow, such a long time cannot be patiently endured just for the sake of research. The carbon cycle in forests and the changes that occur over large spans of time are an interesting series of facts and statistics though.  

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
Sumayah Aamir (Google+) has deep experience in analyzing the latest trends.




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