Fire refugia

Wildfire refugia in forest ecosystems of northwestern North America: predictability, form, and function



Our ongoing research can generally be divvied up into two project arms:

1. Fire refugia in late-successional forests of the PNW: predicting habitat persistence to support land management in an era of rapid global change, http://firerefugia.forestry.oregonstate.edu/

Science Team: Meg Krawchuk, Cameron Naficy, Garrett Meigs, Ray Davis, Dave Bell, Matt Gregory, Dave Wiens, and Katie Dugger 


2. Understanding the role of fire refugia in promoting forest ecosystem resilience in dry mixed conifer forests, https://www.researchgate.net/project/Ecological-function-of-forest-wildfire-refugia)

Collaborators: Meg Krawchuk, Sandra Haire, Jonathan Coop, Carol Miller, Marc-Andre Parisien, Ellen Whitman, Geneva Chong, Will Downing, Ryan Walker, Garrett Meigs


What are fire refugia?

See our recent article published in BioScience "Fire refugia: What are they, and why do they matter for global change?"

NYT's Carl Zimmer covered the article in his science column, Matter "Lifeboats amid the world's wildfires

See our USFS Spotlight "Fire refugia and forest resilience", summarizing some key ideas from our work in dry mixed conifer ecosystems of the American West. 

Fire refugia, in a nutshell:

Wildfires are familiar landscape disturbances in forested ecosystems of western Canada and the United States that result in mosaics of fire effects. The concept of burn severity is used to quantify biological, physical, and chemical effects of fire, and can be broadly defined as the degree to which an ecosystem changes as a result of fire. Landscape heterogeneity produced by burning, which can include a range in severity from unburned patches to high severity fire, is important to conserving characteristic biodiversity of fire-adapted ecosystems. As a part of the burn mosaic, areas that experience comparatively low-severity fire or remain unburned are landscape legacies that can provide an essential environment for species sensitive to fire, and support populations that contribute to the reassembly of biotic communities after fire. Fire islands, residuals, remnants, skips, shadows, refuges, refugia, or unburned patches are all terms used to describe areas at the low end of the burn severity spectrum. Here, we use the term fire refugia to describe places that are disturbed less frequently or less severely by wildfire than the surrounding landscape matrix. Refugia can exist at a range of spatial scales, e.g., from an individual plant or small patch of vegetation to broader landscapes. And refugia can occur across a range of temporal scales, persisting only in the short term through a single fire event or in the longer-term through multiple events. The term fire refugia is adapted from the broader concept of refugia as places providing environmental stability and facilitating species persistence as regional biotic and abiotic environments change. An understanding of the processes and patterns of fire refugia formation, maintenance, and ecosystem role across multiple spatial and temporal scales is critical as we (society) strive(s) to meet landscape fire management and ecosystem restoration goals, now and into the future.

Where and why do conifer forest persist in refugia through multiple fire events?

Meg presents fire refugia concepts hosted by the Forest Stewards Guild: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jfG0nQRdgc