NW CASC-funded Research Describes the Importance of Fire Refugia in a Changing Climate

As our climate changes, increasing wildfire activity continues to impact our forested ecosystems and the species that inhabit them. A new paper on NW CASC-funded research examines fire refugia in the context of global change.

Fire refugia, areas that remain unburned or less disturbed by wildfire, play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity and resilience in forest ecosystems. Fire refugia provide important ecological functions in a landscape over time. During fire events, fire refugia offer shelter and protection for plants and wildlife. Immediately following a fire, refugia provide food, cover and other habitat needs for species. In the years following a fire, refugia can serve as long-term habitat for species as they re-establish in surrounding areas. As increasing wildfire continues to stress our forest ecosystems, fire refugia will become even more important buffers to the negative impacts of climate change.

In addition to describing the ecological function of fire refugia and their role in buffering against climate change, this paper presents a framework for characterizing fire refugia based on a synthesis of current literature. By capturing the spectrum of refugia characteristics, this framework offers a more holistic view of fire refugia and may help in their future identification and classification. Considering their ability to support biodiversity and ecosystem resilience under change, this paper recommends deepening our understanding of fire refugia and prioritizing fire refugia for conservation and management.

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Black plumes of smoke engulf a forest ridge during the Pioneer Fire in Boise National Forest, Idaho, 2016
The Pioneer Fire, Boise National Forest, Idaho, 2016
Source: Kari Greer, USFS

If you have trouble accessing this paper, please email nwcasc@uw.edu.