Using neutral models to identify constraints on low-severity fire regimes


McKenzie, D., Hessl, A.E., Kellogg, L-K.B. 2006. Using neutral models to identify constraints on low-severity fire regimes. Landscape Ecology 21:139-152.


Climate, topography, fuel loadings, and human activities all affect spatial and temporal patterns of fire occurrence. Because fire is modeled as a stochastic process, for which each fire history is only one realization, a simulation approach is necessary to understand baseline variability, thereby identifying constraints, or forcing functions, that affect fire regimes. With a suitable neutral model, characteristics of natural fire regimes estimated from fire history data can be compared to a “null hypothesis”. We generated random landscapes of fire-scarred trees via a point process with sequential spatial inhibition. Random ignition points, fire sizes, and fire years were drawn from uniform and exponential family probability distributions. We compared two characteristics of neutral fire regimes to those from five watersheds in eastern Washington that have experienced low-severity fire. Composite fire intervals (CFIs) at multiple spatial scales displayed similar monotonic decreases with increasing sample area in neutral vs. real landscapes, although patterns of residuals from statistical models differed. In contrast, parameters of the Weibull distribution associated with temporal trends in fire hazard exhibited different forms of scale dependence in real vs. simulated data. Clear patterns in neutral landscapes suggest that deviations from them in empirical data represent real constraints on fire regimes (e.g., topography, fuels). As with any null model, however, neutral fire-regime models need to be carefully tuned to avoid confounding these constraints with artifacts of modeling. Neutral models show promise for investigating low-severity fire regimes to separate intrinsic properties of stochastic processes from the effects of climate, fuel loadings, topography, and management.