Fire, insects, forests and ecosystem processes in Greater Yellowstone

Forests throughout the West are already changing, and our research focuses on when, where, how and why changes will play out in the decades ahead. Our long-term studies began in 1988, when the size and severity of the fires that burned through Yellowstone National Park and surrounding lands surprised scientists, park managers and the public. Along with her students and collaborators, Dr. Turner has studied the effects of fire on postfire vegetation and ecosystem processes for over 30 yrs. Infrequent but high-severity fire is natural in this landscape, and the plants and animals are well adapted to fires that burned historically at intervals of 100–300 years.

For the past decade, our research group has focused on whether these forested landscapes will still be able to bounce back in the face of changing climate and disturbance regimes. We use field studies, experiments, remotely sensed data, and process-based simulation modeling to track postfire forest dynamics, explore disturbance interactions, uncover the mechanisms underpinning forest recovery, and explore scenarios of forest change through 2100.

We also have a long-term focus on ecosystem processes, including how stocks and fluxes of carbon and nitrogen change as postfire forests age and what controls these rates. Current research aims to determine how the nitrogen that is lost to combustion during forest fire is recovered by these fast-growing forests that lack abundant symbiotic nitrogen fixers yet thrive in nutrient-poor soils. These studies focus on biogeochemical cycling in vegetation and soils and include field studies and experiments. 

The Burn: Dr. Monica Turner (The Franklin Institute)

Fires in the West may be changing the future of forests (UW-Madison)

Selected recent + classic publications

(Please visit our publications page for PDFs)

Hoecker, T. J., and M. G. Turner. 2022. Interactions between climate and fire-driven vegetation change constrain the distributions of forest vertebrates during the 21st century. Diversity and Distributions 28:727-744.

Turner, M. G., K. H. Braziunas, W. D. Hansen, T. J. Hoecker, W. Rammer, Z. Ratajczak, A. L. Westerling, and R. Seidl. 2022. The magnitude, direction and tempo of forest change in Greater Yellowstone in a warmer world with more fire. Ecological Monographs 92(1): e01485.

Braziunas, K. H., R. Seidl, W. Rammer, and M. G. Turner. 2021. Can we manage a future with more fire? Effectiveness of defensible space treatment depends on housing amount and configuration. Landscape Ecology 36:309-330.

Gill, N. S., T. J. Hoecker, and M. G. Turner. 2021. The propagule doesn’t fall far from the tree, especially after short-interval fire. Ecology 102(1):e03194.

Rammer, W., K. H. Braziunas, W. D. Hansen, Z. Ratajczak, A. L. Westerling, M. G. Turner, and R. Seidl. 2021. Widespread regeneration failure in forests of Greater Yellowstone under scenarios of future climate and fire. Global Change Biology 27:4339-4351.

Hansen, W. D., D. Abendroth, W. Rammer, R. Seidl, and M. G. Turner. 2020. Can wildland fire management alter 21st-century fire patterns and forests in Grand Teton National Park? Ecological Applications 30(2), e02030.

Turner, M. G., T. G. Whitby, and W. H. Romme. 2019. Feast not famine: Nitrogen pools recover rapidly in 25-yr old postfire lodgepole pine. Ecology 100(3): e02626.

Turner, M. G., K. H. Braziunas, W. D. Hansen, and B. J. Harvey. 2019. Short-interval fire erodes the resilience of subalpine lodgepole pine forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116:11319-11328.

Hansen, W. D., and M. G. Turner. 2019. Origins of abrupt change? Postfire subalpine conifer regeneration declines nonlinearly with warming and drying. Ecological Monographs 89(1), e01340.

Seidl, R., D. C. Donato, K. A Raffa, and M. G. Turner. 2016. Spatial variability in tree regeneration after wildfire delays and dampens future bark beetle outbreaks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113:13075-13080.

Romme, W. H., T. G. Whitby, D. B. Tinker, and M. G. Turner. 2016. Deterministic and stochastic processes lead to divergence in plant communities during the first 25 years after the 1988 Yellowstone Fires. Ecological Monographs 86:327-351.

Harvey, B. J., D. C. Donato and M. G. Turner. 2014. Recent mountain pine beetle outbreaks, wildfire severity, and postfire tree regeneration in the US Northern Rockies.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(42):15120-15125.

Turner, M. G., W. H. Romme and D. B. Tinker. 2003. Surprises and lessons from the 1988 Yellowstone fires. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(7):351-358.

Turner, M. G., W. H. Romme, R. H. Gardner and W. W. Hargrove. 1997. Effects of fire size and pattern on early succession in Yellowstone National Park. Ecological Monographs 67:411-433.

Romme, W. H. and M. G. Turner. 1991. Implications of global climate change for biodiversity in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Conservation Biology 5:373-386