Researchers study links between wildfires and fish health in Interior Alaska watersheds

Daily News-Miner –

Wildfires are one of the main forms of natural disturbance to Alaska’s boreal forests. Over the past few decades, climate change has increased the frequency, severity and extent of wildfires in Interior Alaska. A research team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, led by Jeff Falke, wants to know what this means for the ability of ecosystems to recover from a wildfire.

“Here in Interior Alaska where human impacts are relatively low compared to the rest of the United States, we have a great opportunity to study how natural fire processes impact streams, habitats and fish,” Falke said. In particular, Falke’s team wants to understand how increases in wildfire severity may impact boreal watersheds, which are important habitats for juvenile salmon in Alaska.

Wildfires can have positive and negative impacts on ecosystems. Periodic wildfires can be positive for an ecosystem by helping to maintain habitats. For example, by increasing woody debris flow into streams, fires can improve habitats for juvenile fish that often live in logjams.

But high-intensity fires may have more lasting impacts by wiping out more of the ecosystem, and these fires are becoming more common as ecosystems change.

 Read more