December 7, 2005
Those of you interested in wildfire management might want to review a study by Moritz, Wildfires, complexity, and highly optimized tolerance, published on line yesterday (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0508985102). The abstract:>
Recent large fires in the western United States have rekindled debates about fire management and the role of natural fire regimes in the resilience of terrestrial ecosystems. This real-world experience parallels debates involving abstract models of forest fires, a central metaphor in complex systems theory. Both real and modeled fire-prone landscapes exhibit roughly power law statistics in fire size versus frequency. Here, we examine historical fire catalogs and a detailed fire simulation model; both are in agreement with a highly optimized tolerance model. Highly optimized tolerance suggests robustness tradeoffs underlie resilience in different fire-prone ecosystems. Understanding these mechanisms may provide new insights into the structure of ecological systems and be key in evaluating fire management strategies and sensitivities to climate change.
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