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Projecting future fire regimes in semiarid systems of the inland northwestern U.S.: interactions among climate change, vegetation productivity, and fuel dynamics
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  • Jianning Ren,
  • Erin Hanan,
  • John T Abatzoglou,
  • Crystal Kolden,
  • Christina Tague,
  • Maureen C Kennedy,
  • Mingliang Liu,
  • Jennifer Adam
Jianning Ren
University of Nevada, Reno, University of Nevada, Reno

Corresponding Author:jianning.ren@wsu.edu

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Erin Hanan
University of Nevada, Reno, University of Nevada, Reno
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John T Abatzoglou
University of California Merced, University of California Merced
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Crystal Kolden
UC Merced, UC Merced
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Christina Tague
University of California, Santa Barbara, University of California, Santa Barbara
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Maureen C Kennedy
University of Washington, University of Washington
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Mingliang Liu
Unknown, Unknown
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Jennifer Adam
Washington State University, Washington State University
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Fire regimes are influenced by both exogenous drivers (e.g., increases in atmospheric CO2; and climate change) and endogenous drivers (e.g., vegetation and soil/litter moisture), which constrain fuel loads and fuel aridity. Herein, we identified how exogenous and endogenous drivers can interact to affect fuels and fire regimes in a semiarid watershed in the inland northwestern U.S. throughout the 21st century. We used a coupled ecohydrologic and fire regime model to examine how climate change and CO2 scenarios influence fire regimes over space and time. In this semiarid watershed we found that, in the mid-21st century (2040s), the CO2 fertilization effect on vegetation productivity outstripped the effects of climate change-induced fuel decreases, resulting in greater fuel loading and, thus, a net increase in fire size and burn probability; however, by the late-21st century (2070s), climatic warming dominated over CO2 fertilization, thus reducing fuel loading and fire activity. We also found that, under future climate change scenarios, fire regimes will shift progressively from being flammability to fuel-limited, and we identified a metric to quantify this shift: the ratio of the change in fuel loading to the change in its aridity. The threshold value for which this metric indicates a flammability versus fuel-limited regime differed between grasses and woody species but remained stationary over time. Our results suggest that identifying these thresholds in other systems requires narrowing uncertainty in exogenous drivers, such as future precipitation patterns and CO2 effects on vegetation.