The spatial patterns resulting from large fires include refugial habitats that support surviving legacies and promote ecosystem recovery. To better understand the diverse ecological functions of refugia on burn mosaics, we used remotely sensed data to quantify neighborhood patterns of areas relatively unchanged following the 2011 Las Conchas fire. Spatial patterns of refugia measured within 10-ha moving windows varied across a gradient from areas of high density, clustered in space, to sparsely populated neighborhoods that occurred in the background matrix. The scaling of these patterns was related to the underlying structure of topography measured by slope, aspect and potential soil wetness, and spatially varying climate. Using a nonmetric multidimensional scaling analysis of species cover data collected post-Las Conchas, we found that trees and forest associates were present across the refugial gradient, but communities also exhibited a range of species compositions and potential functions. Spatial patterns of refugia quantified for three previous burns (La Mesa 1977, Dome 1996, Cerro Grande 2000) were dynamic between fire events, but most refugia persisted through at least two fires. Efforts to maintain burn heterogeneity and its ecological functions can begin with identifying where refugia are likely to occur, using terrain-based microclimate models, burn severity models and available field data.
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