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Climate Change Refugia, Fire Ecology and Management

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Early climate change ideas warned of widespread species extinctions. As scientists have probed more deeply into species responses, a more nuanced perspective emerged indicating that some species may persist in microrefugia (refugia), including in mountainous terrain. Refugia are habitats that buffer climate changes and allow species to persist in-and to potentially expand under-changing environmental conditions. While climate and species interactions in refugia have been noted as sources of uncertainty, land management practices and disturbances, such as wildland fire, should also be considered when assessing any given refugium. Our landscape scale study suggests that cold-air pools, an important type of small-scale refugia, have unique fire occurrence, frequency, and severity patterns in frequent-fire mixed conifer forests of California's Sierra Nevada: Cold-air pool refugia have less fire and if it occurs, it is lower severity. Therefore, individuals and small populations are less likely to be extirpated by fire. Active management, such as restoration and fuels treatments for climate change adaptation, may be required to maintain these distinctive and potentially important refugia.

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