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Relating fuel loads to overstorey structure and composition in a fire-excluded Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest

Lydersen, Jamie M., Collins, Brandon M., Knapp, Eric E., Roller, Gary B., Stephens, Scott
The International journal of wildland fire 2015 v.24 no.4 pp. 484-494
topography, critical load, canopy, image analysis, fuel loading, fuel bed, models, coniferous forests, fuels, trees, fire behavior, stand basal area, overstory, Sierra Nevada (California)
Although knowledge of surface fuel loads is critical for evaluating potential fire behaviour and effects, their inherent variability makes these difficult to quantify. Several studies relate fuel loads to vegetation type, topography and spectral imaging, but little work has been done examining relationships between forest overstorey variables and surface fuel characteristics on a small scale (<0.05ha). Within-stand differences in structure and composition would be expected to influence fuel bed characteristics, and thus affect fire behaviour and effects. We used intensive tree and fuel measurements in a fire-excluded Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest to assess relationships and build predictive models for loads of duff, litter and four size classes of downed woody fuels to overstorey structure and composition. Overstorey variables explained a significant but somewhat small percentage of variation in fuel load, with marginal R2 values for predictive models ranging from 0.16 to 0.29. Canopy cover was a relatively important predictor for all fuel components, although relationships varied with tree species. White fir abundance had a positive relationship with total fine woody fuel load. Greater pine abundance was associated with lower load of fine woody fuels and greater load of litter. Duff load was positively associated with total basal area and negatively associated with oak abundance. Knowledge of relationships contributing to within-stand variation in fuel loads can increase our understanding of fuel accumulation and improve our ability to anticipate fine-scale variability in fire behaviour and effects in heterogeneous mixed species stands.