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Data from: Corralling a black swan: natural range of variation in a forest landscape driven by rare, extreme events


Donato, Daniel C.; Halofsky, Joshua S.; Reilly, Matthew J. (2019), Data from: Corralling a black swan: natural range of variation in a forest landscape driven by rare, extreme events, Dryad, Dataset,


The natural range of variation (NRV) is an important reference for ecosystem management, but has been scarcely quantified for forest landscapes driven by infrequent, severe disturbances. Extreme events such as large, stand-replacing wildfires at multi-century intervals are typical for these regimes; however, data on their characteristics are inherently scarce, and, for land management, these events are commonly considered too large and unpredictable to integrate into planning efforts (the proverbial ‘Black Swan’). Here, we estimate the NRV of late-seral (mature/old-growth) and early-seral (post-disturbance, pre-canopy-closure) conditions in a forest landscape driven by episodic, large stand-replacing wildfires: the Western Cascade Range of Washington, USA (2.7 million ha). These two seral stages are focal points for conservation and restoration objectives in many regions. Using a state-and-transition simulation approach incorporating uncertainty, we assess the degree to which NRV estimates differ under a broad range of literature-derived inputs regarding: a) overall fire rotations, and b) how fire area is distributed through time – as relatively frequent smaller events (less episodic), or fewer but larger events (more episodic). All combinations of literature-derived fire rotations and temporal distributions (i.e. ‘scenarios’) indicate that the largest wildfire events (or episodes) burned up to 10^5-10^6 hectares. Under most scenarios, wildfire dynamics produced 5th-95th percentile ranges for late-seral forests of ~47-90% of the region (median 70%), with structurally complex early-seral conditions composing ~1-30% (median 6%). Fire rotation was the main determinant of NRV, but temporal distribution was also important, with more episodic (temporally clustered) fire yielding wider NRV. In smaller landscapes (20,000 ha; typical of conservation reserves and management districts), ranges were 0-100% because fires commonly exceeded the landscape size. Current conditions are outside the estimated NRV, with the majority of the region instead covered by dense mid-seral forests (i.e. a regional landscape with no historical analog). Broad consistency in NRV estimates among widely varied fire regime parameters suggests these ranges are likely relevant even under changing climatic conditions, both historical and future. These results indicate management-relevant NRV estimates can be derived for seral stages of interest in extreme-event landscapes, even when incorporating inherent uncertainties in disturbance regimes.

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Cascade Range
Western Washington Cascades
West Cascades