Variations in a regional fire regime related to vegetation type in San Diego County, California (USA)

Michael L. Wells, John F. O'Leary, Janet Franklin, Joel Michaelsen, David E. McKinsey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


This study considers variations in a regional fire regime that are related to vegetation structure. Using a Geographic Information System, the vegetation of San Diego County, Southern coastal California USA is divided into six generalized classes based on dominant plant form and include: herbaceous, sage scrub, chaparral, hardwood forest, conifer forest and desert. Mapped fire occurrences for the 20th century are then overlain to produce records of stand age, fire frequency and transitional stability for each of the vegetation classes. A 'Manhattan' similarity index is used to compare and group transition matrices for the six classes of vegetation. This analysis groups herbaceous, hardwood and conifer forests in one group, sage scrub and chaparral in a second, and desert in a third. In general, sage scrub and chaparral have burned more frequently than other vegetation types during the course of the 20th century. Temporal trends suggest that the rate of burning in shrub-dominated vegetation is either stable (chaparral) or increasing (sage scrub), while the rate of burning in both hardwood and conifer forest is declining. This is consistent with a pattern of increased fire ignitions along the relatively low elevation urban-wildland interface, and an increase in the efficiency of fire suppression in high elevation forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-152
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004


  • GIS-coupled modeling
  • Landscape-scale vegetation change
  • Regional fire regime
  • Similarity index
  • Southern California vegetation
  • Spatial variability
  • Transition matrices
  • Vegetation classification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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