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Applying Ecological Resilience Theory Using Scale, Pattern, and Process

Victoria M Donovan, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Rapid global change is one of the greatest threats to contemporary society. An increasing emphasis has been placed on understanding and applying concepts of ecological resilience, that is, the amount of disturbance that a system can absorb before transitioning to an alternative ecological regime with its own unique set of structures and functions. Understanding factors that promote or erode resilience across scales is pertinent for managing and conserving valued ecosystem services. In this dissertation, I investigate patterns and outcomes of a predominant global change driver, wildfire, in the central United States. First, I assess wildfire patterns across multiple scales in the U.S. Great Plains. I find large wildfires are increasing in number and that contemporary wildfires are most likely to occur in wooded and grassland land cover types across scales. I also find that contemporary large wildfires are not associated with large-scale persistent transitions in vegetation functional groups. Second, I use data collected from forest-grassland ecotones to investigate concepts of spatial resilience, regime identity, and ecological legacies of wildfire. My findings support the concept of spatial resilience by demonstrating the ability of spatial attributes to influence the probability of wildfire driven regime shifts. I also demonstrate the complexity of wildfire legacies that are not currently captured in regime identities used in application and highlight how current management tactics can erode ecological legacies of wildfire. Further, I assess ties between tree plantings in grasslands and woody encroachment, finding social-ecological landscape factors predict woody spread from tree plantings, with potential implications for fire risk. Finally, I assess the response of wildlife to the heterogeneity created by wildfire, finding that time since fire and fire severity shapes bighorn sheep habitat selection over broad scales.

Subject Area

Ecology|Conservation biology|Forestry

Recommended Citation

Donovan, Victoria M, "Applying Ecological Resilience Theory Using Scale, Pattern, and Process" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI27666971.