Laboratory experiments for predicting fire behavior and effects

Eva Strand, Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences

Shrubs, forbs, and grasses are central to ecosystem structure and function and provide ecosystem resilience after disturbances including wildfire. Herbaceous vegetation serves a critical role in nutrient cycling, provide erosion control, and offer habitat and forage for animals. In spite the importance of these functional groups, predictive models for post-fire plant survival have focused on trees. Process based models for predicting heat injury to plant tissue and seedbanks are urgently needed for estimating fire effects and advance post-fire management. High burn severity may change the post-fire plant composition and thereby the long-term trajectory of the post-fire plant community. This research focus on developing laboratory experiments designed to characterize the horizontal, vertical, and temporal penetration of heat into the soil when burning the organic soil layer (duff) at a variety of moisture scenarios and duff depths, including flaming and smoldering fire behaviors. The opportunity to conduct these experiments will take my research in a new direction. My previous research has focused on broad scale assessments of fire effects and this seed grant will allow me connect remote sensing and field observations with laboratory experiments to better link broad scale observations to mechanistic relationships of heat transfer into soil and seedbanks.