Fire modulates climate change response of simulated aspen distribution across topoclimatic gradients in a semi-arid montane landscape

Jian Yang, Peter J. Weisberg, Douglas J. Shinneman, Thomas E. Dilts, Susan L. Earnst, Robert M. Scheller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Content: Changing aspen distribution in response to climate change and fire is a major focus of biodiversity conservation, yet little is known about the potential response of aspen to these two driving forces along topoclimatic gradients. Objective: This study is set to evaluate how aspen distribution might shift in response to different climate-fire scenarios in a semi-arid montane landscape, and quantify the influence of fire regime along topoclimatic gradients. Methods: We used a novel integration of a forest landscape succession and disturbance model (LANDIS-II) with a fine-scale climatic water deficit approach to simulate dynamics of aspen and associated conifer and shrub species over the next 150 years under various climate-fire scenarios. Results: Simulations suggest that many aspen stands could persist without fire for centuries under current climate conditions. However, a simulated 2–5 °C increase in temperature caused a substantial reduction of aspen coverage at lower elevations and a modest increase at upper elevations, leading to an overall reduction of aspen range at the landscape level. Increasing fire activity may favor aspen increase at its upper elevation limits adjacent to coniferous forest, but may also favor reduction of aspen at lower elevation limits adjacent to xeric shrubland. Conclusions: Our study highlights the importance of incorporating fine-scale terrain effects on climatic water deficit and ecohydrology when modeling species distribution response to climate change. This modeling study suggests that climate mitigation and adaptation strategies that use fire would benefit from consideration of spatial context at landscape scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1055-1073
Number of pages19
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 4 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Climatic water deficit
  • Fire disturbance
  • Gradient analysis
  • Great Basin
  • Quaking aspen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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