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Power laws reveal phase transitions in landscape controls of fire regimes


Maureen C. Kennedy



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Northwest Research Station


Nature Communications. 3. 6 p. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1731


Understanding the environmental controls on historical wildfires, and how they changed across spatial scales, is difficult because there are no surviving explicit records of either weather or vegetation (fuels). Here we show how power laws associated with fire-event time series arise in limited domains of parameters that represent critical transitions in the controls on landscape fire. Comparison to a self-organized criticality model shows that the latter mimics historical fire only in a limited domain of criticality, and is not an adequate mechanism to explain landscape fire dynamics, which are shaped by both endogenous and exogenous controls. Our results identify a continuous phase transition in landscape controls, marked by power laws, and provide an ecological analogue to critical behaviour in physical and chemical systems. This explicitly cross-scale analysis provides a paradigm for identifying critical thresholds in landscape dynamics that may be crossed in a rapidly changing climate.


McKenzie, Donald; Kennedy, Maureen C. 2012. Power laws reveal phase transitions in landscape controls of fire regimes. Nature Communications. 3. 6 p. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1731.


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