Historical stand-replacing fire in upper montane forests of the Madrean Sky Islands and Mogollon Plateau, Southwestern USA

Ellis Q. Margolis, Thomas W. Swetnam, Craig D. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The recent occurrence of large fires with a substantial stand-replacing component in the southwestern United States (e.g., Cerro Grande, 2000; Rodeo-Chedeski, 2002; Aspen, 2003; Horseshoe 2, Las Conchas, and Wallow, 2011) has raised questions about the historical role of stand-replacing fire in the region. We reconstructed fire dates and stand-replacing fire patch sizes using four lines of tree-ring evidence at four upper montane forest sites (>2600 m) in the Madrean Sky Islands and Mogollon Plateau of Arizona and New Mexico, USA. The four lines of tree-ring evidence include: (1) quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and spruce-fir age structure, (2) conifer death dates, (3) traumatic resin ducts and ring-width changes, and (4) conifer fire scars. Pre-1905 fire regimes in the upper montane forest sites were variable, with drier, south-facing portions of some sites recording frequent, low-severity fire (mean fire interval of all fires ranging from 5 yr to 11 yr among sites), others burning with stand-replacing severity, and others with no evidence of fire for >300 yr. Reconstructed fires at three of the four sites (Pinaleño Mountains, San Francisco Peaks, and Gila Wilderness) had stand-replacing fire patches >200 ha, with maximum patch sizes ranging from 286 ha in mixed conifer-aspen forests to 521 ha in spruce-fir forests. These data suggest that recent stand-replacing fire patches as large as 200 ha to 500 ha burning in upper elevation (>2600 m) mixed conifer-aspen and spruce-fir forests may be within the historical range of variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-107
Number of pages20
JournalFire Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011


  • Fire history
  • Mixed conifer
  • Quaking aspen
  • Spruce-fir
  • Tree ring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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