Simulating the effects of frequent fire on southern california coastal shrublands

Alexandra D. Syphard, Janet Franklin, Jon E. Keeley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Fire disturbance is a primary agent of change in the mediterranean-climate chaparral shrublands of southern California, USA. However, fire frequency has been steadily increasing in coastal regions due to ignitions at the growing wildland-urban interface. Although chaparral is resilient to a range of fire frequencies, successively short intervals between fires can threaten the persistence of some species, and the effects may differ according to plant functional type. California shrublands support high levels of biological diversity, including many endangered and endemic species. Therefore, it is important to understand the long-term effects of altered fire regimes on these communities. A spatially explicit simulation model of landscape disturbance and succession (LANDIS) was used to predict the effects of frequent fire on the distribution of dominant plant functional types in a study area administered by the National Park Service. Shrubs dependent on fire-cued seed germination were most sensitive to frequent fire and lost substantial cover to other functional types, including drought-deciduous subshrubs that typify coastal sage scrub and nonnative annual grasses. Shrubs that resprout were favored by higher fire frequencies and gained in extent under these treatments. Due to this potential for vegetation change, caution is advised against the widespread use of prescribed fire in the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1744-1756
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2006


  • Chaparral shrublands
  • Coastal sage scrub
  • Fire frequency
  • Functional types
  • Simulation modeling
  • Southern California (USA)
  • Vegetation-type conversion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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