Spatial & temporal evolution of subalpine forest-fire regimes, Rocky Mountain National Park
Landscape heterogeneity in subalpine forests is strongly influenced by temporal and spatial patterns of fire. Tree-ring records provide detailed fire history information covering the past 500 years and, in conjunction with paleoclimate records, they illustrate strong climatic controls on fire occurrence at inter-annual to decadal time scales. Little is known about the characteristics of subalpine forest fire regimes at longer time scales or the sensitivity of these regimes to multi-centennial climatic change. The proposed study uses sediment charcoal and pollen records to quantify fire-frequency regimes across a 250 km2 region in Rocky Mountain National Park over the past 4000 years.
This period is characterized by the development of modern climate and vegetation in central Colorado and includes important centennial-scale variations in temperature and moisture regimes. Spatial relationships between changes in fire-frequency regimes and vegetation, and comparisons to existing paleoclimate records will facilitate inferences into the mechanisms controlling historic fire regimes. This research represents one of the first high-resolution paleofire studies of its type in the region and will serve ecologists and land managers by greatly improving our understanding of the origin of modern subalpine forests and their sensitivity to environmental change.