Fire and floods: The recovery of headwater stream systems following high-severity wildfire

Jackson M. Leonard, Hugo A. Magaña, Randy K. Bangert, Daniel G. Neary, Willson L. Montgomery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


This study examined the recovery of both physical and biotic characteristics of small (<0.1 m3 sec-1) headwater stream systems impacted by the Dude Fire, which occurred in central Arizona, USA, in 1990. Data collected prior to the fire from 1986 to1988 was compared to similar data collected at various points after the fire though 2011 in order to assess changes in the geomorphology and macroinvertebrate communities over the 21-year time period. Additionally, several environmental parameters of the impacted streams were compared to neighboring unburned headwater streams in order to determine recovery status. The study hypothesized that the headwater aquatic ecosystems impacted by the Dude Fire have yet to recover to unburned reference conditions. Results show that flooding, which occurred following the fire, resulted in incision in ex- cess of 0.5 m across some stream transects and is continuing to cause shifts in dominant substrate particle size. Macroinvertebrate richness, diversity, and abundance were altered from prefire conditions up to a decade after the fire. Streamside canopy cover across burned streams remained 28% lower on average. Lower concentrations of key stream nutrients, including nitrate (Formula Presented) and phosphate (Formula Presented), within impacted streams are still evident. Increases in summer stream temperatures due to the loss of streamside canopy cover continue to have an adverse affect on salmonid habitat. Thus, the process of recovery is closely tied to streamside vegetation and hydrologic disturbance patterns following the fire event, and will extend beyond the 21- year time period of this study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-84
Number of pages23
JournalFire Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Geomorphology
  • Headwater stream
  • Macroinvertebrate
  • Riparian
  • Wildfire effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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