Coffee Hour with Alan Taylor: Humans modulate fire regimes, forest characteristics, and fire-climate relationships in California montane forests, USA

Friday, January 26, 2018 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m

sunset smoke in trees

About the talk

Climate change is predicted to increase future fire activity and trigger fire regimes shifts in western USA forests but predictions are uncertain because human activity can modulate or even override climatic effects on fire activity. This talk highlights the effects of changing socio-ecological systems on fire regime characteristics and fire-climate relationships in pine dominated forests in California. Fire regimes and forest conditions are quantified for a five century period  to characterize variability in human-fire-forest-climate dynamics. A study landscape burned in 2013 providing a ‘natural experiment’ to determine if fire severity would increase as predicted by the human fire exclusion-forest thickening vegetation change model for these forests. A statistical model using daily area burned, daily fire weather, and fuels and vegetation data from the pre fire exclusion and contemporary forest were used to identify controls on fire severity.  Topography, tree species composition, and cover of forbs and shrubs, best explained fire severity. Fire exclusion altered fire-vegetation interactions, leading to uncharacteristically severe burns and potentially new fire-vegetation dynamics. On a regional scale fire regimes strongly responded to Native American depopulation, livestock grazing, and fire suppression and these human activities both amplified and buffered fire-climate relationships demonstrating the key role of socioecological processes in influencing fire-fuel-climate interactions These effects were evident in the fire-climate record at both inter-annual and inter-decadal time scales. This underscores a need to develop more nuanced representations of human-fire-climate interactions in models that seek to predict future responses of fire to climate change and socioecological forcing.

About the speaker

Alan TaylorAlan Taylor is a Professor of Geography and Ecology at Penn State and Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at The Pennsylvania State University. His research during the last 25 years has focused on the effects and interactions of fire disturbance, climate, and people on forest dynamics at various time scales, and on the influence of understory plants on tree regeneration. He has done fire related research in the montane forests of the Pacific Northwest, California and the American Southwest. He also has conducted extensive research on the highland bamboo forests of southwest China that are habitat for the Giant Panda. Taylor has served as an associate editor for the Canadian Journal of Forest Research and has been on the editorial board of Geography Compass and Physical Geography. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on landscape ecology, global ecology and biogeography, forest geography, vegetation dynamics, and invasive species, and fire, ecosystems, and people.

Taylor received his B.Sc. degree from California State University, Hayward; M.Sc. from Oregon State University, and Ph.D from the University of Colorado.

Contact us

Penn State encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Angela Rogers in advance of your participation or visit.

Angela Rogers  office: 814-865-2493 email:

Coffee Hour