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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Peter M. Brown; Rosalind Wu
Publication Date: 2005

Strong but relatively short (annual to decadal length) climate change can have broad-scale and long-lasting effects on forest communities. Climate impacts forests through direct effects on tree demography (mortality and overstory recruitment) and indirect effects on disturbance regimes. Here, we compare multicentury chronologies of tree recruitment from a 307-ha ponderosa pine forest in southwestern Colorado to reconstructions of fire years, hydroclimate, and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Few trees predate a regional multiyear megadrought centered in the 1580s. A prolonged pluvial in the early1600s resulted in a pulse of tree recruitment that corresponds to recruitment seen over much of the Southwest. Other cohorts in the early 1700s and mid-1800s established during multidecadal fire-quiescent periods. These periods correspond to shifts in ENSO that apparently resulted in dampening of interannual wet/dry oscillations responsible for fuel buildup and drying. Fires, mediated by stochastic climate variation, acted as a density-independent regulation on tree populations since establishment was not limited by overstory tree density, but rather by fire-caused mortality of seedlings and saplings during periods of more frequent fires. Even-aged cohorts in ponderosa pine forests likely have little if anything to do with episodic mortality caused by more severe fires, but rather relate mainly to episodic recruitment opportunities. Fire cessation after Euro-American settlement in the late 1800s resulted in an increase in tree density and changes in forest composition, which are major factors that have contributed to recent severe wildfires in other Southwestern forests. Our results document clear linkages between synoptic climate forcing, fires, and recruitment episodes, and highlight the importance of regional historical processes on contemporary forest composition and structure.

Online Links
Citation: Brown, Peter M.; Wu, Rosalind. 2005. Climate and disturbance forcing of episodic tree recruitment in a southwestern ponderosa pine landscape. Ecology 86(11):3030-3038.

Cataloging Information

Partner Sites:
  • age classes
  • bark
  • climatology
  • Colorado
  • coniferous forests
  • crown scorch
  • dendrochronology
  • dendroecology
  • disturbance
  • Douglas-fir
  • drought
  • ENSO - El Nino Southern Oscillation
  • fire frequency
  • fire injury
  • fire management
  • fire regimes
  • forest management
  • fuel accumulation
  • ignition
  • Juniperus osteosperma
  • Juniperus scopulorum
  • mortality
  • overstory
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • plant communities
  • plant growth
  • plant physiology
  • ponderosa pine
  • population density
  • population dynamics
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Quercus gambelii
  • rate of spread
  • regeneration
  • seed germination
  • seedlings
  • statistical analysis
  • surface fires
  • tree demography
  • tree recruitment
  • wildfires
Tall Timbers Record Number: 18794Location Status: In-fileCall Number: Journals-EAbstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 9803

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by Tall Timbers 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 Tall Timbers.
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.