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Influences of climate on fire regimes in montane forests of north-western Mexico

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Abstract Aim 

To identify the influence of interannual and interdecadal climate variation on the occurrence and extent of fires in montane conifer forests of north-western Mexico. Location 

This study was conducted in Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Grev. & Balf.)-dominated mixed-conifer forests in the central and northern plateau of the Sierra San Pedro Mártir, Baja California, Mexico. Methods 

Fire occurrence was reconstructed for 12 dispersed sites for a 290-year period (1700–1990) from cross-dated fire-scarred samples extracted from live trees, snags and logs. Superposed epoch analysis was used to examine the relationships of tree-ring reconstructions of drought, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) with fire occurrence and extent. Results 

Years with no recorded fire scars were wetter than average. In contrast, years of widespread fires were dry and associated with phase changes of the PDO, usually from positive (warm) to negative (cold). The influence of the PDO was most evident during the La Niña phase of the ENSO. Widespread fires were also associated with warm/wet conditions 5 years before the fire. We hypothesize that the 5-year lag between warm/wet conditions and widespread fires may be associated with the time necessary to build up sufficient quantity and continuity of needle litter to support widespread fires. Two periods of unusually high fire activity (1770–1800 and 1920–1950) were each followed by several decades of unusually low fire activity. The switch in each case was associated with strong phase changes in both PDO and ENSO. Main conclusions 

Climate strongly influences fire regimes in the mountains of north-western Mexico. Wet/warm years are associated with little fire activity. However, these years may contribute to subsequent fire years by encouraging the production of sufficient needle litter to support more widespread fires that occur in dry/cool years.
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Keywords: Climate variability; ENSO; Jeffrey pine; Pacific Decadal Oscillation; Pinus jeffreyi; conifer forest; dendrochronology; fire ecology; fire regime; landscape ecology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Science, California State University, Fullerton, CA, USA 2: Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA, USA 3: Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

Publication date: 01 August 2008

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