Post-fire burn severity and vegetation response following eight large wildferes across the western United States
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): L. B. Lentile; P. Morgan; A. T. Hudak; M. J. Bobbitt; S. A. Lewis; A. M.S. Smith; P. R. Robichaud
Publication Year: 2007

Cataloging Information

  • chaparral
  • coniferous forests
  • cover
  • dNBR - differenced (or delta) Normalized Burn Ratio
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fire size
  • forest management
  • Montana
  • mosaic
  • overstory
  • post fire recovery
  • remote sensing
  • remote sensing
  • soils
  • species diversity
  • species diversity (plants)
  • species richness
  • vegetation surveys
  • wildfires
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 13, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 52362
Tall Timbers Record Number: 29458
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Available
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Vegetation response and burn severity were examined following eight large wildfires that burned in 2003 and 2004: two wildfires in California chaparral, two each in dry and moist mixed-conifer forests in Montana, and two in boreal forests in interior Alaska. Our research objectives were: 1) to characterize one year post-fire vegetation recovery relative to initial fire effects on the soil surface that could potentially serve as indicators of vegetation response (and thus, ultimately longer term post-fire ecosystem recovery), and 2) to use a remotely-sensed indicator of burn severity to describe landscape patterns in fire effects. We correlated one-year post-fire plant species richness and percent canopy cover to burn severity and to soil surface cover immediately after the fires. For all eight wildfires, plant canopy cover and species richness were low and highly variable one year post-fire. We found a greater number of forbs when compared to other plant life forms, independent of burn severity. Plant cover was dominated by grasses in chaparral systems, by forbs in mixed-conifer forests, and by shrubs in boreal forests, similar to the unburned vegetation. Fine scale variability in post-fire effects on soils, the diversity of pre-fire vegetation, and the resilience of plants to fire likely explain the high variation observed in post-fire vegetation responses across sites and burn severities. On most low and moderate burn severity sites, >30% of the soil surface was covered with organic material immediately post-fire, and one year later, the canopy cover of understory vegetation averaged 10% or more, suggesting low risk to post-fire erosion. In California chaparral and the two Montana mixed conifer sites, 5% or less of the area within the fire perimeter burned with high severity, while in Alaska, 58% was mapped as high burn severity; we think this is characteristic in Alaska, but uncharacteristic of chaparral fires, especially given the high proportion of non-native species post-fire in our chaparral sites. All fires had a mosaic of different burn severities (as indicated by delta Normalized Burn Ratio, dNBR) with highly variable patch size (mean 1.3 ha to 14.4 ha, range from <1 ha to over 100,000 ha).

Lentile, L. B., P. Morgan, A. T. Hudak, M. J. Bobbitt, S. A. Lewis, A. M. S. Smith, and P. R. Robichaud. 2007. Post-fire burn severity and vegetation response following eight large wildferes across the western United States. Fire Ecology, v. 3, no. 1, p. 91-108.