Vegetation shifts observed in arctic tundra 17 years after fire Academic Article uri icon


  • With anticipated climate change, tundra fires are expected to occur more frequently in the future, but data on the longer term effects of fire on tundra vegetation composition are scarce. This study therefore addresses changes in vegetation structure that have persisted for 17 years after a tundra fire on the North Slope of Alaska. Fire-related shifts in vegetation composition were assessed from remote sensing imagery and ground observations of the burn scar and an adjacent control site. Early-season remotely sensed imagery from the burn scar exhibits a low vegetation index compared to the control site, while the late-season signal is slightly higher. The range and maximum vegetation index is greater in the burn scar, although the mean annual values do not differ among the sites. Ground observations revealed a greater abundance of graminoid species and an absence of Betula nana in the post-fire tundra sites, which is a likely explanation for the spectral differences observed in the remotely sensed imagery. Additional differences in vegetation composition in the burn scar include less moss cover and a greater cover of herbaceous species. The partial replacement of tundra by graminoid-dominated ecosystems has been predicted by the ALFRESCO model of disturbance, climate, and vegetation succession.

publication date

  • December 20, 2012