Ten years of vegetation assembly after a North American mega fire
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Scott R. Abella; Paula J. Fornwalt
Publication Year: 2015

Cataloging Information

  • Colorado
  • coniferous forests
  • disturbance
  • disturbance
  • exotic species
  • fire case histories
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fire regimes
  • fire resistant plants
  • fire severity
  • fire size
  • forest management
  • Hayman Fire
  • invasive species
  • national parks
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • ponderosa pine
  • post-fire recovery
  • resilience
  • resistance
  • shrublands
  • shrubs
  • succession
  • understory vegetation
  • vegetation change
  • vegetation surveys
  • wildfires
Partner Site(s):
  • Southwest FireCLIME
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 8, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 53420
Tall Timbers Record Number: 30811
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.

Annotated Bibliography

This document is part of the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography, which includes published research related to the interactions between climate change, wildfire, and subsequent ecosystem effects in the southwestern U.S. The publications contained in the Bibliography have each been summarized to distill the outcomes as they pertain to fire and climate. Go to this document's record in the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography.


Altered fuels and climate change are transforming fire regimes in many of Earth's biomes. Postfire reassembly of vegetation - paramount to C storage and biodiversity conservation - frequently remains unpredictable and complicated by rapid global change. Using a unique data set of pre and long-term postfire data, combined with long-term data from nearby unburned areas, we examined 10 years of understory vegetation assembly after the 2002 Hayman Fire. This fire was the largest wildfire in recorded history in Colorado, USA. Resistance (initial postfire deviance from prefire condition) and resilience (return to prefire condition) declined with increasing fire severity. However, via both resistance and resilience, 'legacy' species of the prefire community constituted >75% of total plant cover within 3 years even in severely burned areas. Perseverance of legacy species, coupled with new colonizers, created a persistent increase in community species richness and cover over prefire levels. This was driven by a first-year increase (maintained over time) in forbs with short life spans; a 2-3-year delayed surge in long-lived forbs; and a consistent increase in graminoids through the 10th postfire year. Burning increased exotic plant invasion relative to prefire and unburned areas, but burned communities always were >89% native. This study informs debate in the literature regarding whether these increasingly large fires are 'ecological catastrophes.' Landscape-scale severe burning was catastrophic from a tree overstory perspective, but from an understory perspective, burning promoted rich and productive native understories, despite the entire 10-year postfire period receiving below-average precipitation.

Online Link(s):
Abella, Scott R.; Fornwalt, Paula J. 2015. Ten years of vegetation assembly after a North American mega-fire. Global Change Biology 21(2):789-802.