The distribution of woody species in relation to climate and fire in Yosemite National Park, California, USA

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Abstract

Background: The effects of climate on plant species ranges are well appreciated, but the effects of other processes, such as fire, on plant species distribution are less well understood. We used a dataset of 561 plots 0.1 ha in size located throughout Yosemite National Park, in the Sierra Nevada of California, USA, to determine the joint effects of fire and climate on woody plant species. We analyzed the effect of climate (annual actual evapotranspiration [AET], climatic water deficit [Deficit]) and fire characteristics (occurrence [BURN] for all plots, fire return interval departure [FRID] for unburned plots, and severity of the most severe fire [dNBR]) on the distribution of woody plant species. Results: Of 43 species that were present on at least two plots, 38 species occurred on five or more plots. Of those 38 species, models for the distribution of 13 species (34%) were significantly improved by including the variable for fire occurrence (BURN). Models for the distribution of 10 species (26%) were significantly improved by including FRID, and two species (5%) were improved by including dNBR. Species for which distribution models were improved by inclusion of fire variables included some of the most areally extensive woody plants. Species and ecological zones were aligned along an AET-Deficit gradient from cool and moist to hot and dry conditions. Conclusions: In fire-frequent ecosystems, such as those in most of western North America, species distribution models were improved by including variables related to fire. Models for changing species distributions would also be improved by considering potential changes to the fire regime.

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van Wagtendonk, J. W., Moore, P. E., Yee, J. L., & Lutz, J. A. (2020). The distribution of woody species in relation to climate and fire in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. Fire Ecology, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-020-00079-9

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