Climatic Suitability Derived from Species Distribution Models Captures Community Responses to an Extreme Drought Episode

Pérez Navarro M.Á., Sapes G., Batllori E., Serra-Diaz J.M., Esteve M.A., Lloret F. (2018) Climatic Suitability Derived from Species Distribution Models Captures Community Responses to an Extreme Drought Episode. Ecosystems. : 1-14.
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Doi: 10.1007/s10021-018-0254-0

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The differential responses of co-occurring species in rich communities to climate change—particularly to drought episodes—have been fairly unexplored. Species distribution models (SDMs) are used to assess changes in species suitability under environmental shifts, but whether they can portray population and community responses is largely undetermined, especially in relation to extreme events. Here we studied a shrubland community in SE Spain because this region constitutes an ecotone between the Mediterranean biome and subtropical arid areas, and it has recently suffered its driest hydrological year on record. We used four different modeling algorithms (Mahalanobis distance, GAM, BRT, and MAXENT) to estimate species’ climatic suitability before (1950–2000) and during the extreme drought. For each SDM, we related species’ climatic suitability with their remaining green canopy as a proxy for species resistance to drought. We consistently found a positive correlation between remaining green canopy and species’ climatic suitability before the event. This relationship supports the hypothesis of a higher vulnerability of populations living closer to their species’ limits of aridity tolerance. Contrastingly, climatic suitability during the drought did not correlate with remaining green canopy, likely because the exceptional episode led to almost zero suitability values. Overall, our approach highlights climatic niche modeling as a robust approach to standardizing and comparing the behavior of different co-occurring species facing strong climatic fluctuations. Although many processes contribute to resistance to climatic extremes, the results confirm the relevance of populations’ position in the species’ climatic niche for explaining sensitivity to climate change. © 2018 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature

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Cumulative effects of fire and drought in Mediterranean ecosystems

Batllori E., Dećaceres M., Brotons L., Ackerly D.D., Moritz M.A., Lloret F. (2017) Cumulative effects of fire and drought in Mediterranean ecosystems. Ecosphere. 8: 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1002/ecs2.1906

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The occurrence of multiple disturbances can jointly affect the recovery capacity of ecosystems, potentially leading to changes in vegetation dynamics or loss of resilience. The effects of interacting disturbances on ecosystems are, however, not well understood. We use a model system based on Mediterraneantype ecosystems (MTEs) to examine how the interplay between vegetation regeneration traits and compound, stochastic disturbances modulate ecosystem dynamics. We developed a state-and-transition simulation model including two tree species with contrasting regeneration strategies (seeder vs. resprouter) and a shrubland formation. We aim to assess potential compositional switches under contrasted scenarios of compound fire-drought regimes, and to characterize the cumulative effects of fire-drought (synergism vs. antagonism) relative to the effects of individual disturbance regimes. Our simulation results indicate that interaction between moderate fire and sporadic drought recurrence-as opposed to chronic dryness-can act as a strong mechanism generating highly heterogeneous landscapes in which different regeneration types coexist, as observed in MTEs. Resprouters dominated under individual, moderate disturbance regimes of fire or drought, whereas the interaction of the two disturbances promoted the longterm coexistence of both tree regeneration strategies. However, shrubland expansion and persistence at the expanse of forests was favored by increases in drought recurrence and associated fire-drought interactions, highlighting the potential for important vegetation changes in MTEs under climate change. Overall, the cumulative effects of fire and drought can lead to distinct landscape configurations under moderate disturbance regimes that are otherwise only attained under high frequency of individual disturbances. At the ecosystem level, however, we suggest that disturbance-induced vegetation dynamics can modify vegetation sensitivity and resilience to further disturbances precluding the prevalence of synergistic effects of the two disturbances. © 2017 Batllori et al.

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Potential relocation of climatic environments suggests high rates of climate displacement within the North American protection network

Batllori, E., Parisien, M.-A., Parks, S.A., Moritz, M.A., Miller, C. (2017) Potential relocation of climatic environments suggests high rates of climate displacement within the North American protection network. Global Change Biology. : 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1111/gcb.13663

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Back to the Future: The Responses of Alpine Treelines to Climate Warming are Constrained by the Current Ecotone Structure

Camarero, J.J., Linares, J.C., García-Cervigón, A.I., Batllori, E., Martínez, I., Gutiérrez, E. (2016) Back to the Future: The Responses of Alpine Treelines to Climate Warming are Constrained by the Current Ecotone Structure. Ecosystems. : 1-18.
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Doi: 10.1007/s10021-016-0046-3

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Incorporating anthropogenic influences into fire probability models: Effects of human activity and climate change on fire activity in California

Mann M.L., Batllori E., Moritz M.A., Waller E.K., Berck P., Flint A.L., Flint L.E., Dolfi E. (2016) Incorporating anthropogenic influences into fire probability models: Effects of human activity and climate change on fire activity in California. PLoS ONE. 11: 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153589

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The costly interactions between humans and wildfires throughout California demonstrate the need to understand the relationships between them, especially in the face of a changing climate and expanding human communities. Although a number of statistical and process-based wildfire models exist for California, there is enormous uncertainty about the location and number of future fires, with previously published estimates of increases ranging from nine to fifty-three percent by the end of the century. Our goal is to assess the role of climate and anthropogenic influences on the state's fire regimes from 1975 to 2050. We develop an empirical model that integrates estimates of biophysical indicators relevant to plant communities and anthropogenic influences at each forecast time step. Historically, we find that anthropogenic influences account for up to fifty percent of explanatory power in the model. We also find that the total area burned is likely to increase, with burned area expected to increase by 2.2 and 5.0 percent by 2050 under climatic bookends (PCM and GFDL climate models, respectively). Our two climate models show considerable agreement, but due to potential shifts in rainfall patterns, substantial uncertainty remains for the semiarid inland deserts and coastal areas of the south. Given the strength of human-related variables in some regions, however, it is clear that comprehensive projections of future fire activity should include both anthropogenic and biophysical influences. Previous findings of substantially increased numbers of fires and burned area for California may be tied to omitted variable bias from the exclusion of human influences. The omission of anthropogenic variables in our model would overstate the importance of climatic ones by at least 24%. As such, the failure to include anthropogenic effects in many models likely overstates the response of wildfire to climatic change. © 2016, Public Library of Science. All rights reserved. This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

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A minimal model of fire-vegetation feedbacks and disturbance stochasticity generates alternative stable states in grassland-shrubland-woodland systems

Batllori E., Ackerly D.D., Moritz M.A. (2015) A minimal model of fire-vegetation feedbacks and disturbance stochasticity generates alternative stable states in grassland-shrubland-woodland systems. Environmental Research Letters. 10: 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/3/034018

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Altered disturbance regimes in the context of global change are likely to have profound consequences for ecosystems. Interactions between fire and vegetation are of particular interest, as fire is a major driver of vegetation change, and vegetation properties (e.g., amount, flammability) alter fire regimes. Mediterranean-type ecosystems (MTEs) constitute a paradigmatic example of temperate fire-prone vegetation. Although these ecosystems may be heavily impacted by global change, disturbance regime shifts and the implications of fire-vegetation feedbacks in the dynamics of such biomes are still poorly characterized. We developed a minimal modeling framework incorporating key aspects of fire ecology and successional processes to evaluate the relative influence of extrinsic and intrinsic factors on disturbance and vegetation dynamics in systems composed of grassland, shrubland, and woodland mosaics, which characterize many MTEs. In this theoretical investigation, we performed extensive simulations representing different background rates of vegetation succession and disturbance regime (fire frequency and severity) processes that reflect a broad range of MTE environmental conditions. Varying fire-vegetation feedbacks can lead to different critical points in underlying processes of disturbance and sudden shifts in the vegetation state of grassland-shrubland-woodland systems, despite gradual changes in ecosystem drivers as defined by the environment. Vegetation flammability and disturbance stochasticity effectively modify system behavior, determining its heterogeneity and the existence of alternative stable states in MTEs. Small variations in system flammability and fire recurrence induced by climate or vegetation changes may trigger sudden shifts in the state of such ecosystems. The existence of threshold dynamics, alternative stable states, and contrasting system responses to environmental change has broad implications for MTE management. © 2015 IOP Publishing Ltd.

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The climate space of fire regimes in north-western North America

Whitman E., Batllori E., Parisien M.-A., Miller C., Coop J.D., Krawchuk M.A., Chong G.W., Haire S.L. (2015) The climate space of fire regimes in north-western North America. Journal of Biogeography. 42: 1736-1749.
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Doi: 10.1111/jbi.12533

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Aim: Studies of fire activity along environmental gradients have been undertaken, but the results of such studies have yet to be integrated with fire-regime analysis. We characterize fire-regime components along climate gradients and a gradient of human influence. Location: We focus on a climatically diverse region of north-western North America extending from northern British Columbia, Canada, to northern Utah and Colorado, USA. Methods: We used a multivariate framework to collapse 12 climatic variables into two major climate gradients and binned them into 73 discrete climate domains. We examined variation in fire-regime components (frequency, size, severity, seasonality and cause) across climate domains. Fire-regime attributes were compiled from existing databases and Landsat imagery for 1897 large fires. Relationships among the fire-regime components, climate gradients and human influence were examined through bivariate regressions. The unique contribution of human influence was also assessed. Results: A primary climate gradient of temperature and summer precipitation and a secondary gradient of continentality and winter precipitation in the study area were identified. Fire occupied a distinct central region of such climate space, within which fire-regime components varied considerably. We identified significant interrelations between fire-regime components of fire size, frequency, burn severity and cause. The influence of humans was apparent in patterns of burn severity and ignition cause. Main conclusions: Wildfire activity is highest where thermal and moisture gradients converge to promote fuel production, flammability and ignitions. Having linked fire-regime components to large-scale climate gradients, we show that fire regimes - like the climate that controls them - are a part of a continuum, expanding on models of varying constraints on fire activity. The observed relationships between fire-regime components, together with the distinct role of climatic and human influences, generate variation in biotic communities. Thus, future changes to climate may lead to ecological changes through altered fire regimes. © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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