Sunday, November 27, 2016

'Goldilocks fires' can enhance biodiversity in Western forests

Public Release: 4-Oct-2016
'Goldilocks fires' can enhance biodiversity in Western forests
University of Connecticut

Forest fires were long thought to have a negative impact on the environment and on biodiversity, but in recent decades the importance of fire in sustaining and even enhancing natural systems has been demonstrated by researchers and increasingly embraced by land managers.

Now, a team of scientists has shown that mixed-severity fires - those that are on the whole not too hot, not too cold, but just right - can lead to increased biodiversity of birds in California forests over time.

Fires in the U.S. are on average getting bigger and more severe - and are expected to continue to do so under future scenarios of climate change. The researchers suggest that forest managers should prioritize managing forests so that they are more likely to burn at a mixture of intensities: as the study's lead author Morgan Tingley puts it, "Goldilocks fires," or those that have large patches of both heavily-burned and lightly-burned forest.

"Due to climate change and a buildup of fuels from historical fire suppression, fires appear to be increasingly burning large swaths of forest at high severity, and that's not good for biodiversity," says Tingley, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut.

"Mixed-severity fire is more likely to occur when forests with a natural level of structural diversity burn, resulting in a mosaic of patches of different burn severities. To promote biodiversity, forests with a diversity of structures and ages should be a goal of management practices."


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