Fire is a natural disturbance across much of Denali’s lowlands. Although occasionally destructive to human infrastructure, fires can benefit ecological communities in many ways. In the northwest lowlands of the park, fire has been present on the landscape so long that many species, such as black spruce (Picea mariana), have developed special adaptations to it. While even a low severity fire can kill these thin-barked and shallow-rooted trees, black spruce cones and seeds have developed a number of ways to regenerate and propagate successfully after fire events.
Although fire is a natural part of the successional cycle in the boreal forest, global climate change predictions of increased fire frequency and severity may ultimately contribute to drastic changes beyond the scope of what inhabitants of the boreal forest can tolerate. If changes to the fire cycle occur faster than the development of adaptations, major vegetation change may occur, resulting in a drastically altered landscape.
As you browse the photo pairs, consider that although these photo pairs only span one cycle of disturbance and succession, they provide us a better understanding of the ecological effects of fire and the potential changes brought on by alteration of the fire cycle.