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Spatial Ecology of Pre –Euro-American Fires in a Southern Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forest Landscape

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Natural disturbances such as fires have been widely studied, but less is known about their spatial ecology than about other aspects of them. We reconstructed and mapped pre–Euro-American fire history in a subalpine forest landscape in southeastern Wyoming, and analyzed the fires using GIS. Mean fire interval varies little with topography (elevation, aspect, slope) and is spatially autocorrelated at distances of at least 2 km. Fires often spread downslope, and spread more than expected from the north and south and less than expected from the west, under the influence of particular synoptic climatic conditions. The landscape of 1868 a.d., at the time of Euro-American settlement, was strongly influenced by fires. However, it contained large patches of connected forest and few high-contrast edges, unlike the modern landscape, which is fragmented by industrial forestry and roads. The spatial ecology of the natural fire regime may be a useful guide for management.

Keywords: GIS; Rocky Mountains; Wyoming; fires; spatial ecology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Wyoming

Publication date: May 1, 2001


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