Land cover influences boreal-forest fire responses to climate change: geospatial analysis of historical records from Alaska

Carolyn Barrett Dash, Jennifer M. Fraterrigo, Feng Sheng Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Context: Wildfire activity in boreal forests is projected to increase dramatically in response to anthropogenic climate change. By altering the spatial arrangement of fuels, land-cover configuration may interact with climate change to influence fire-regime dynamics at landscape and regional scales. Objectives: We evaluate how land cover interacts with weather conditions to influence boreal-forest burning from 2012 to 2014 in Alaska. Methods: Using geospatial fire and land-cover data, we quantify relationships between area burned and land cover, and test whether observed patterns of burning differ from random under varying weather conditions and fire sizes. Results: Mean summer moisture index was correlated with annual area burned (ρ = −0.78, p < 0.01), the total number of fires (ρ = −0.68, p = 0.01), and the number of large fires (>500 km2; ρ = −0.58, p = 0.04). Area burned was related positively to percent cover of coniferous forest and woody wetlands, and negatively to percent cover of shrub scrub, dwarf scrub, and open water and barren areas. Fires preferentially burned coniferous forest, which represented 50.1 % of the area burned in warmer/drier summers and 40.3 % of area burned in cooler/wetter summers, compared to the 34.5 % (±4.2 %) expected by random selection of land-cover classes. Overall vegetation tended to burn more similarly to random in warmer/drier than cooler/wetter years. Conclusions: Land cover exerted greater influences on boreal fire regimes when weather conditions were less favorable for forest burning. Reliable projections of boreal fire-regime change thus require consideration of the interactions between climate and land cover, as well as feedbacks from land-cover change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1781-1793
Number of pages13
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Area burned
  • Boreal forest
  • Climate change
  • Coniferous forest
  • Fire regime
  • Land cover


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