Course Overview

Course Topic

In this course we will explore the topic of fire in the context of global environmental change, and in particular ecological feedbacks that are likely to affect vegetation flammability under current and future climate. We will consider a wide range of research approaches and spatio-temporal scales related to fire and ecological feedbacks. A key unifying question for our discussions this semester will be: What are the opportunities and needs for integrating studies of disturbance ecology into the emerging research agenda on fire in the context of global climate and land use change?

A primary goal of this course is to integrate knowledge across a wide range of relatively specialized research fields in support of research on the role of fire and its ecological feedbacks in the context of global environmental change. We will aim to strike a balance between the need to unify and address research questions that cross disciplinary boundaries versus the need to have highly specialized knowledge on topics such as fuels and fire behavior modeling, sedimentary paleoecological techniques, tree-ring applications to fire climatology, plant-animal interactions, invasive species ecology, and plant functional types. During the first two-thirds of the semester class meetings will mostly consist of discussions of the assigned readings.

The final one-third of the course will consist of student-led  presentations on selected paper topics. Each week several students will report on and lead a discussion of their paper topic. They will assign two or three articles each for the entire class to read as part of discussion. Paper topics may be thematic or methodological in nature. A wide range of topics on disturbance ecology and climatic influences on ecosystem dynamics would be suitable. Students are welcome (and encouraged) to focus on reviews of the literature closely related to their thesis or dissertation topics as long as the topic is linked to the themes of the seminar.

Course Structure

The course will be run in a seminar-like format and co-taught with faculty among the University of Idaho, Montana State University (Department of Earth Sciences), and University of Colorado (Department of Geography). Meetings will consist of interactive video conferences with graduate students and faculty from partner universities. The course is part of a collaborative research project entitled “WildFIRE PIRE: Feedbacks and consequences of altered fire regimes in the face of climate and land-use change in Tasmania, New Zealand, and the western U.S.” This National Science Foundation project also includes partner institutions in New Zealand and Australia, and students and faculty from those institutions may participate in some of the video-conference seminars. The WildFIRE PIRE project is described at: