Fire regimes of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) ecosystems in Colorado: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Document Type: Report
Author(s): Shawn T. McKinney
Publication Year: 2019

Cataloging Information

  • Arapahoe/Roosevelt National Forest
  • climate relationships
  • Colorado
  • fire extent
  • fire frequency
  • fire regimes
  • fire seasonality
  • fire severity
  • forest management
  • literature review
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • ponderosa pine
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 12, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 58029


Forest management, especially restoration, is informed by understanding the dominant natural disturbance regime. In many western North American forests the keystone disturbance is fire, and much research exists characterizing various fire regime parameters, although often only one or two parameters are addressed in individual studies. I performed a systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis of the derived data from 26 publications to characterize five parameters of the historical fire regime of ponderosa pine ecosystems in Colorado: fire frequency, severity, extent, seasonality, and climate relationships. Together, these publications suggest a fire regime predominately characterized by moderate to high frequency, low and mixed severity fires that occurred in late summer to fall, with fires occurring in drier than average years that were often preceded by 2 to 3 years of wetter than average conditions. Across all sites, average mean fire interval (MFI) was 21 years (SD = 1.4 years, n = 78 sites) andlengthened with site elevation (r = 0.33, p < 0.05). Low and mixed severity fires accounted for 83% of all observations, and 69% of fires occurred in late summer to fall; fire season was not related to latitude. Geographic region (Front Range and southwestern) was associated with variability in fire regime parameter values, with southwestern Colorado sites having a stronger association with wetter than average conditions in the 3 years preceding fire years and a shorter mean MFI (18 years) relative to Front Range sites (23 years). Evidence of low-severity fire ended abruptly prior to or by the early 20th century (1920) in the fire-scar record from 73 of the 78 sites. Data were insufficient to evaluate contemporary changes in fire severity and extent due to a lack of historical information and inconsistent methodology and reporting. However, one study showed average fire size and total annual area burned increased from 1930 to 2006 across multiple forest types (including ponderosa pine) from southern Wyoming through New Mexico. This meta-analytic approach identified broadscale patterns and variation within and among fire regime parameters, which can be used to understand drivers of vegetation structure and composition and inform forest management aimed at enhancing resilience of fire-adapted forests to disturbance and climate change.

Online Link(s):
Link to this document (1.4 MB; pdf)
McKinney, Shawn T. 2019. Fire regimes of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) ecosystems in Colorado: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Missoula, MT: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory. 44 p.