Webinar: Understanding fire refugia and their importance to conservation in the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. and Canada

Event Type: 
GNLCC Webinar
Date and Time: 
May 6, 2014 (All day)

Time: 10am Mountain / 9am Pacific

Hosts: GNLCC Rocky Mountain Partner Forum

Presenter: Sandra L. Haire, Ph.D. As a landscape ecologist, Sandra is primarily interested in understanding how disturbance creates spatial patterns and affects ecological processes. Her research topics include the influence of management, climate, and topography on fire regimes, and identification of characteristic spatial and temporal scales of post-fire succession and forest regeneration. The landscape ecology of fire refugia, or places that remain relatively unchanged after disturbance events, is the focus of her current project with funding from the GNLCC and Gap Partnership Program. Sandra has previously worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado and now conducts research through her own ‘lab’ which operates as a woman-owned small business.

Description: Global climate change, and its interactions with other stressors, pose extreme challenges to biodiversity conservation. An important and potentially efficient adaptation strategy will be the identification and protection of natural refugia that buffer biodiversity from the rate and magnitude of regional change. The most familiar examples of refugia are those unglaciated areas where displaced species persisted during periods of high glacial activity through the Pleistocene, but potential refugia for some species exist in contemporary landscapes. These areas often represent microclimates associated with particular positions within or near an enduring feature, such as mountains or large lakes, or in highly variable terrain. The goal of our research is to identify in situ refugia modulated by local processes that can effectively modify habitats at landscape scales under changing environments. Specifically, we are examining fire-prone ecosystems in mountainous areas of the US and Canada to aid understanding of refugia formation, ecology, and importance to conservation at multiple scales.

During this webinar, I will introduce the concept of fire refugia and describe the multi-scale study design we are employing to provide a framework for quantifying fire refugia and fire environments. At the broadest scale, we characterize variability in climate and its relationship to patterns of recent wildfire activity as a ‘first-order’ selection by fire. At intermediate and fine scales, we focus on forested ecosystems where we quantify the patterns of burning within fire perimeters using burn severity data to identify unburned areas—that may or may not be persistent refugia—as a second-order selection by fire. At the finest scale we characterize biophysical environments that systematically support unburned patches of the landscape and consider these as potential persistent fire refugia—as a third-order selection by fire. Accordingly, this study design recognizes that only a subset of unburned areas within fires are likely to serve as persistent refugia; others will be more ephemeral and occur through fire management, stochastic fire behavior, and land management.