The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires

The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires

Nature's Phoenix

1st Edition - June 8, 2015

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  • Authors: Dominick DellaSala, Chad Hanson
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128027493
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128027608

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The Ecological Importance of High-Severity Fires, presents information on the current paradigm shift in the way people think about wildfire and ecosystems. While much of the current forest management in fire-adapted ecosystems, especially forests, is focused on fire prevention and suppression, little has been reported on the ecological role of fire, and nothing has been presented on the importance of high-severity fire with regards to the maintenance of native biodiversity and fire-dependent ecosystems and species. This text fills that void, providing a comprehensive reference for documenting and synthesizing fire's ecological role.

Key Features

  • Offers the first reference written on mixed- and high-severity fires and their relevance for biodiversity
  • Contains a broad synthesis of the ecology of mixed- and high-severity fires covering such topics as vegetation, birds, mammals, insects, aquatics, and management actions
  • Explores the conservation vs. public controversy issues around megafires in a rapidly warming world


Ecologists, environmentalists, land managers

Table of Contents

  • Section 1: Biodiversity of Mixed- and High-Severity Fires

    Chapter 1: Setting the Stage for Mixed- and High-Severity Fire

    • Abstract
    • 1.1 Earlier Hypotheses and Current Research
    • 1.2 Ecosystem Resilience and Mixed- and High-Severity Fire
    • 1.3 Mixed- and High-Severity Fires Have Not Increased in Frequency as Assumed
    • 1.4 Conclusions

    Chapter 2: Ecological and Biodiversity Benefits of Megafires

    • Abstract
    • 2.1 Just What Are Megafires?
    • 2.2 Megafires as Global Change Agents
    • 2.3 Megafires, Large Severe Fire Patches, and Complex Early Seral Forests
    • 2.4 Historical Evidence of Megafires
    • 2.5 Megafires and Landscape Heterogeneity
    • 2.6 Are Megafires Increasing?
    • 2.7 Language Matters
    • 2.8 Conclusions
    • Appendix 2.1 Fires of Historical Significance from Records Compiled By the National Interagency Fire Center (

    Chapter 3: Using Bird Ecology to Learn About the Benefits of Severe Fire

    • Abstract
    • 3.1 Introduction
    • 3.2 Insights from Bird Studies

    Chapter 4: Mammals and Mixed- and High-severity Fire

    • Abstract
    • 4.1 Introduction
    • 4.2 Bats
    • 4.3 Small Mammals
    • 4.4 Carnivores
    • 4.5 Ungulates
    • 4.6 Management and Conservation Relevance
    • 4.7 Conclusions
    • Appendix 4.1 The number of studies by taxa showing directional response (negative, neutral, or positive) to severe wildfire over three time periods following fire. Studies cited include unburned areas compared to severely burned areas with no post-fire logging, and excluded prescribed burns. For small mammals, only species with enough detections to determine directional response were reported

    Chapter 5: Stream-Riparian Ecosystems and Mixed- and High-Severity Fire

    • Abstract
    • 5.1 Defining Wildfire Severity and Stream-Riparian Biotic Responses
    • 5.2 Stream-Riparian Areas and Wildfire Severity
    • 5.3 Time Since Fire Matters
    • 5.4 Spatial Scale Matters
    • 5.5 Responses to a Gradient of Wildfire Severity: Evidence from the North American West
    • 5.6 Chemical Responses
    • 5.7 Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management
    • 5.8 Conclusions

    Chapter 6: Bark Beetles and High-Severity Fires in Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forests

    • Abstract
    • Acknowledgments
    • 6.1 Fire, Beetles, and Their Interactions
    • 6.2 How Do Outbreaks Affect Subsequent High-Severity Fires?
    • 6.3 How Do High-Severity Fires Affect Subsequent Outbreaks?
    • 6.4 How Are Interacting Fires and Bark Beetles Affecting Forest Resilience in the Context of Climate Change?
    • 6.5 Conclusions

    Section 2: Global and Regional Perspectives on Mixed- and High-Severity Fires

    Chapter 7: High-Severity Fire in Chaparral: Cognitive Dissonance in the Shrublands

    • Abstract
    • 7.1 Chaparral and the Fire Suppression Paradigm
    • 7.2 The Facts About Chaparral Fires: They Burn Intensely and Severely
    • 7.3 Fire Misconceptions are Pervasive
    • 7.4 Reducing Cognitive Dissonance
    • 7.5 Paradigm Change Revisited
    • 7.6 Conclusion: Making the Paradigm Shift

    Chapter 8: Regional Case Studies: Southeast Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Europe, and Boreal Canada

    • Abstract
    • Case Study: The Ecology of Mixed-Severity Fire in Mountain Ash Forests
    • Acknowledgments
    • 8.1 The Setting
    • 8.2 Mountain Ash Life Cycle
    • 8.3 Influence of Stand Age on Fire Severity
    • 8.4 Distribution of Old-Growth Forests
    • 8.5 Mixed-Severity Fire and Fauna of Mountain Ash Forests
    • 8.6 Fauna and Fire-Affected Habitat Structures
    • 8.7 Faunal Response to the Spatial Outcomes of Fire
    • 8.8 Conservation Challenges and Future Fire
    • Case Study: The Importance of Mixed- and High-Severity Fires in sub-Saharan Africa
    • 8.9 The Big Picture
    • 8.10 Where Is Fire Important in sub-Saharan Africa?
    • 8.11 What About People and Fire?
    • 8.12 Coevolution of Savannah, Herbivores, and Fire
    • 8.13 Herbivores and Fire
    • 8.14 Beyond Africa’s Savannah Habitat
    • 8.15 Habitat Management Through Controlled Burns
    • 8.16 Southwestern Cape Renosterveld Management
    • 8.17 Conclusion
    • Case Study: Response of Invertebrates to Mixed- and High-Severity Fires in Central Europe
    • 8.18 The Setting
    • 8.19 Aeolian Sands Specialists Alongside the Railway Track Near Bzenec-Přívoz
    • 8.20 Postfire Succession Near Jetřichovice: A Chance for Dead Wood Specialists
    • 8.21 Conclusions
    • The Role of Large Fires in the Canadian Boreal Ecosystem
    • 8.22 The Green Halo
    • 8.23 Land of Extremes
    • 8.24 Vegetation
    • 8.25 Plants Coping with Fire
    • 8.26 Fire Regime of the Canadian Boreal Forest
    • 8.27 Temporal Patterns of Fire and Other Changes in the Boreal
    • 8.28 Biodiversity
    • 8.29 Conclusion

    Chapter 9: Climate Change: Uncertainties, Shifting Baselines, and Fire Management

    • Abstract
    • 9.1 Top-Down Climate Forcing Fire Behavior
    • 9.2 Using the Paleo-Record to Construct a Fire Envelope
    • 9.3 Reconstructing Past Fire Regimes
    • 9.4 Fire History Across a Moisture Gradient
    • 9.5 Case Studies of Long-Term Fire History in the Western United States
    • 9.6 Historical Record and the Fire Envelope
    • 9.7 Understanding the Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Fire
    • 9.8 Observed Trends in Fire Activity Linked to Climate Change
    • 9.9 Projected Changes in Fire Activity in Response to Climate Change
    • 9.10 Conclusions

    Chapter 10: Carbon Dynamics of Mixed- and High-Severity Wildfires: Pyrogenic CO2 Emissions, Postfire Carbon Balance, and Succession

    • Abstract
    • 10.1 Mixed-Severity Fires: A Diversity of Fuels, Environments, and Fire Behaviors
    • 10.2 Duff, Litter, and Woody Debris Combustion
    • 10.3 Live Foliage Combustion
    • 10.4 Soil Combustion
    • 10.5 Bole Biomass Consumption
    • 10.6 Fuel Reduction Treatments, Carbon Emissions, and Long-Term Carbon Storage
    • 10.7 Indirect Sources of Carbon Emissions
    • 10.8 Conclusions

    Section 3: Managing Mixed- and High-Severity Fires

    Chapter 11: In the Aftermath of Fire: Logging and Related Actions Degrade Mixed- and High-Severity Burn Areas

    • Abstract
    • 11.1 Postfire Logging as a Knee-Jerk Response
    • 11.2 Cumulative Effects of Postfire Logging and Related Activities
    • 11.3 Postfire Logging Lessons from Case Studies
    • 11.4 Conclusions
    • Appendix 11.1 Effects of Postfire Management Across Regions Where Most Studies Have Been Conducted

    Chapter 12: The Rising Costs of Wildfire Suppression and the Case for Ecological Fire Use

    • Abstract
    • 12.1 Burned and Busted: The Rising Cost of Fighting Fires
    • 12.2 Socioenvironmental Cost Factors
    • 12.3 The Human Dimensions of Wildfire Suppression Costs
    • 12.4 External Sociocultural Cost Factors
    • 12.5 Internal Institutional Cost Factors
    • 12.6 Operational Factors: Suppression Strategies and Tactics
    • 12.7 Banking on Change: Recommendations for Controlling Costs and Expanding Benefits of Managing Wildfires
    • 12.8 Endnote on Methodology

    Chapter 13: Flight of the Phoenix: Coexisting with Mixed-Severity Fires

    • Abstract
    • 13.1 Ecological Perspectives on Mixed-Severity Fire
    • 13.2 Understanding the Public’s Reaction to Fire
    • 13.3 Safe Living in Firesheds
    • 13.4 To Thin or Not to Thin?
    • 13.5 Fire Safety and Ecological Use of Wildland Fire Recommendations
    • 13.6 Lessons from Around the Globe
    • 13.7 Addressing Uncertainties
    • 13.8 Closing Remarks

Product details

  • No. of pages: 450
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Elsevier 2015
  • Published: June 8, 2015
  • Imprint: Elsevier
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128027493
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128027608

About the Authors

Dominick DellaSala

Dominick DellaSala
Dominick DellaSala, Ph. D, is Chief Scientist of Wild Heritage, a project of the Earth Island Institute, and former President of the Society for Conservation Biology, North America. He is an internationally renowned scholar of over 200 publications on forest ecology, endangered species, conservation biology, and climate change. Dominick has given keynote talks ranging from academic conferences to the United Nations Earth Summit. He has been featured in hundreds of news stories and documentaries, testified in the US congress numerous times, and received conservation leadership and book writing awards. He is on the editorial board of Elsevier’s Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, co-chief editor of Elsevier’s Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene, The World’s Biomes, and Encyclopedia of Conservation; Co-editor the Ecological Importance of Mixed Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix (Elsevier), editor and author of the award winning Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology and Conservation; and subject editor of several scientific journals. He is driven by a passion to save life on Earth for his daughters, grandkids, and future generations.

Affiliations and Expertise

Chief Scientist, Wild Heritage, a project of the Earth Island Institute

Chad Hanson

Chad Hanson
Dr. Chad Hanson is a research ecologist and the director of the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, located in Big Bear City, California. He has a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California at Davis, with a research focus on fire ecology in conifer forest ecosystems, and he is the author of the 2021 book, “Smokescreen: Debunking Wildfire Myths to Save Our Forests and Our Climate”, as well as the co-editor and co-author of the 2015 book, “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix” (Elsevier, Inc.). Research by Chad covers topics such as: natural post-fire forest regrowth and carbon sequestration; carbon flux in wildland fires; current forest fire patterns and trends; fire history; habitat selection of rare wildlife species associated with habitat created by high-intensity fire; and adverse impacts to wildlife caused by logging.

Affiliations and Expertise

Research Ecologist and Director, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, Big Bear City, California, USA

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