Agronomy and Horticulture Department




Date of this Version



Ecosphere 9(7):e02343


© 2018 The Authors.

Open access

DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2343


The emergence of large-scale fire classifications and products informed by remote sensing data has enabled opportunities to include variability or heterogeneity as part of modern fire regime classifications. Currently, basic fire metrics such as mean fire return intervals are calculated without considering spatial variance in a management context. Fire return intervals are also only applicable at a particular grain size (defined as the spatial unit of interest) even though they are typically applied homogeneously. In this study, we utilized a 29-yr fire occurrence database to show how spatial variance changes with respect to grain as postulated by Wiens (1989) when reporting fire patterns within the Great Plains, USA. We utilized data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity database of fire occurrence for the years 1984–2012. We analyzed median numbers of fire along with their variance at four spatial grains ranging from small units (e.g., plots at 3 x 3 km resolution) to large units (e.g., landscapes at 1500 x 2700 km resolution). Median number of fire occurrences was consistently low, irrespective of grain. Despite the consistency in low median numbers of fires across grain, variance in the numbers of fires between units decreased. Variance within units, however, did not change as grain increased indicating fire-pattern-scale inconsistencies. Fire pattern interpretations depended entirely on the scale at which it is calculated. Given that the Great Plains region has a large disparity in fire patterns (i.e., some regions burn often, while others may never burn), fire regime classifications will benefit from including scale-specific variance estimates as a foundation for understanding changes in fire regimes and corresponding social–ecological and policy responses.