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Fire effects on aquatic ecosystems: an assessment of the current state of science

Author(s): Rebecca J. Bixby, Scott D. Cooper, Robert E. Gresswell, Lee E. Brown, Clifford N. Dahm, Kathleen A. Dwire
Year Published: 2016

Fire is a prevalent feature of many landscapes and has numerous and complex effects on geological, hydrological, ecological, and economic systems. In some regions, the frequency and intensity of wildfire have increased in recent years and are projected to escalate with predicted climatic and landuse changes. In addition, prescribed burns continue to be used in many parts of the world to clear vegetation for development projects, encourage desired vegetation, and reduce fuel loads. Given the prevalence of fire on the landscape, authors of papers in this special series examine the complexities of fire as a disturbance shaping freshwater ecosystems and highlight the state of the science. These papers cover key aspects of fire effects that range from vegetation loss and recovery in watersheds to effects on hydrology and water quality with consequences for communities (from algae to fish), food webs, and ecosystem processes (e.g., organic matter subsidies, nutrient cycling) across a range of scales. The results presented in this special series of articles expand our knowledge of fire effects in different biomes, water bodies, and geographic regions, encompassing aquatic population, community, and ecosystem responses. In this overview, we summarize each paper and emphasize its contributions to knowledge on fire ecology and freshwater ecosystems. This overview concludes with a list of 7 research foci that are needed to further our knowledge of fire effects on aquatic ecosystems, including research on: 1) additional biomes and geographic regions; 2) additional habitats, including wetlands and lacustrine ecosystems; 3) different fire severities, sizes, and spatial configurations; and 4) additional response variables (e.g., ecosystem processes) 5) over long (>5 y) time scales 6) with more rigorous study designs and data analyses, and 7) consideration of the effects of fire management practices and policies on aquatic ecosystems.

Citation: Bixby, R.J.; Cooper, S.D.; Gresswell, B.; Brown, L.E.; Dahm, C.N.; Dwire, K.A. 2016. Fire effects on aquatic ecosystems: an assessment of the current state of science. Freshwater Science. 34(4): 1340-1350.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Aquatic Life
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article, Synthesis
NRFSN number: 13906
Record updated: Feb 10, 2016