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Klamath Range Wildfire and Climate

Collaborative Research: Understanding the potential for a climate change-driven critical transition from forest to chaparral

The Klamath Ecoregion of Oregon and California is an ideal model system for studying non-linear ecosystem dynamics and for applying this knowledge toward improved science-based ecosystem management. Stabilizing feedbacks between a mixed-severity fire regime and successional dynamics maintain two distinct ecological communities: a high-biomass conifer forest state and a low-biomass shrub-chaparral-hardwood (SCH) state. These feedbacks are closely linked to climate and operate at local and landscape scales to affect regional scale biome distributions. The goal of the proposed research is to understand if anticipated changes in climate may alter the disturbance-recovery dynamics and force a regional-scale critical transition from mature conifer forest to SCH.
The research plan includes three elements that are key to understanding the potential for such a transition: (1) development of general mathematical models to gain a broad understanding of dynamics underlying critical thresholds in fire-prone ecotones and to identify the functional relationships that control transitions between SCH and mature conifer forest, at local and landscape levels; (2) field research to characterize the climate-dependence of post-fire recovery and to test and parameterize models; (3) process-based simulations of local, landscape, and regional dynamics to characterize the interactive roles of climate, fire, and management in shaping the region’s ecological communities. 

Our work at Portland State will be centered around the following questions:

What is the role of land management in shaping alternative landscape states through its influence on fire regime, forest composition, and forest recovery rate? Could management actions delay or prevent critical transitions at the landscape or regional scale?

We will develop a suite of potential future management scenarios with stakeholders and then apply them within the LANDIS-II Century Extension landscape simulation framework to better understand how management response to climate, wildfire, and changes in recovery rates may influence the potential for a critical transition

Collaborators: Jonathan Thompson (Harvard Forest), Kristina Anderson-Teixeira (Smithsonian), Howard Epstein (University of Virginia), Adam Miller (Smithsonian), Thomas Spies (U.S. Forest Service)

Status: Ongoing

Official project website:

Presentations and Publications:

Melissa Lucash,
Jan 13, 2015, 4:33 PM