Spatial Controls of Pre–Euro-American Wind and Fire Disturbance in Northern Wisconsin (USA) Forest Landscapes

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Courtesy of Springer

We elucidate spatial controls of wind and fire disturbance across northern Wisconsin (USA), where climatic and topographic gradients are not strong, using data from the original US Public Land Survey (PLS) notes. These records contain information on the location and extent of heavy windthrows and stand-replacing fires prior to Euro-American settlement. The spatial patterns of windthrow and fire were spatially clustered at all scales in this historical environment, with stronger associations at local than regional scales. Logistic regression shows environmental variables to have a strong influence on this pattern. In the case of heavy windthrow, environmental drivers of disturbance pattern are fairly consistent across the region. The effects of climate and vegetation are predominant at all scales, but effects are often indirect, with strong interactions between them. Interactions between these two drivers and soil characteristics are also sometimes present. In contrast, models of stand-replacing fire show simple and direct control within and across fire-prone landscapes of historical northern Wisconsin, with climate and physiography as the main factors explaining the distribution of fire disturbance. This simple and direct control is lost at the regional scale, where climate, physiographic, soil, and vegetation variables, along with interactions between them, are significant factors. Contrary to other regions, the topographic effects are generally not important in predicting either wind or fire disturbance. Our work suggests that, in landscapes that lack strong environmental patterning, climate maintains its role as a primary driver of these natural disturbances, but topography is replaced by interactions and feedbacks with other forms of environmental heterogeneity.

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