Characterizing historical and modern fire regimes in Michigan (USA): A landscape ecosystem approach

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



We studied the relationships of landscape ecosystems to historical and contemporary fire regimes across 4.3 million hectares in northern lower Michigan (USA). Changes in fire regimes were documented by comparing historical fire rotations in different landscape ecosystems to those occurring between 1985 and 2000. Previously published data and a synthesis of the literature were used to identify six forest-replacement fire regime categories with fire rotations ranging from very short ( < 100 years) to very long (> 1,000 years). We derived spatially-explicit estimates of the susceptibility of landscape ecosystems to fire disturbance using Landtype Association maps as initial units of investigation. Each Landtype Association polygon was assigned to a fire regime category based on associations of ecological factors known to influence fire regimes. Spatial statistics were used to interpolate fire points recorded by the General Land Office. Historical fire rotations were determined by calculating the area burned for each category of fire regime and dividing this area by fifteen (years) to estimate area burned per annum. Modern fire rotations were estimated using data on fire location and size obtained from federal and state agencies. Landtype Associations networked into fire regime categories exhibited differences in both historical and modern fire rotations. Historical rotations varied by 23-fold across all fire rotation categories, and modern forest fire rotations by 13-fold. Modern fire rotations were an order of magnitude longer than historical rotations. The magnitude of these changes has important implications for forest health and understanding of ecological processes in most of the fire rotation categories that we identified.

Publication Title

Landscape Ecology