Fire regime changes in La Michilia Biosphere Reserve, Durango, Mexico

Peter Z. Fulé, W. Wallace Covington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The ability of reserves to maintain natural ecosystem processes such as fire disturbance regimes is central to long-term conservation. Fire-scarred tree samples were used to reconstruct fire regimes arrive study sites totaling approximately 230 ha in pine (Pinus spp.) and oak (Quercus spp.) forests of La Michilia Biosphere Reserve on the dry east slope of the Sierra Madre Occidental, Durango, Mexico. Study sites covered a 20-km environmental gradient of elevation, topography, and human land uses. Plant communities ranged from oak-pine to mixed conifer forests. Fires were frequent at all sites prior to 1930, when large-scale grazing of domestic livestock was initiated. Widespread fires have been excluded from four of the five sites since 1945, with an essentially uninterrupted regime of frequent fires continuing only in the reserve core. Xeric sites had many, smaller fires, whereas mesic sites had fewer but larger fires. On a reserve-wide scale, a fire burned on at least one site nearly every year, usually in the dry spring or early summer season, but fire years were rarely synchronous among the sites. Fire occurrence was weakly related to the Southern Oscillation climate pattern; major reserve-wide fire years almost never coincided with wet Southern Oscillation extremes but only occasionally matched dry extremes. Maintenance of the long-term frequent-fire regime in the reserve core is one indicator that the biosphere reserve model has been successful in conserving natural processes, but the protected area is small (7000 ha). Because of the key role of frequent-fire regimes in regulating ecosystem structure and function, restoration of the ecological role of fire disturbance is a desirable conservation strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)640-652
Number of pages13
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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