Under climate change, more of Yellowstone to burn

A firefighter responds to the 2015 Thompson-Divide Complex Fire, which burned over 20,000 acres in Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The wildfires burning across the western United States may offer a glimpse of the future of forests, according to recent research. Rupert Seidl, Professor of Ecosystem Dynamics and Forest Management in Mountain Landscapes at the Technical Institute of Munich, led a study published in Global Change Biology using artificial intelligence to model forests under climate change. Looking at the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, his team found that by the end of the century, forest current forest coverage will disappear from 28% to 59% of the region, particularly in the subalpine zone where trees are less adapted to fire, and in parts of the Yellowstone Plateau, where the flat landscape offers little to stop fires from spreading. “Considering how climate change is progressing, we are probably only at the beginning of a future that will see more and bigger forest fires,” Seidl says.

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