Exploring the Relationships Between Post-fire Vegetation Regeneration Dynamics, Topography and Burn Severity: A case study from the Montane Cordillera Ecozones of Western Canada

Gareth Ireland, George Petropoulos

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In this study the relationships between vegetation regeneration dynamics to topography and burn severity for a Canadian landscape were investigated using freely available Earth Observation (EO) imagery from Landsat TM sensor. The Okanagan Mountain Park, located in the Montane Cordillera Ecozones of Western Canada at which a fire occurred in 2003, was used as a case study. First, vegetation regeneration dynamics were quantified for a period of 8 years following the fire event based on a chronosequence analysis of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and the Regeneration Index (RI). The spatio-temporal patterns of post-fire NDVI from each image date were statistically compared to the pre-fire pattern to determine the extent to which the pre-fire spatial pattern was re-established and also the rate of recovery. Subsequently, the relationships of vegetation regrowth to both topography and burn severity was quantified using a series of additional statistical metrics. Burn severity was derived from the differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) index computed from the Landsat TM images. Information on topography properties of the region was obtained from the ASTER global operational product. NDVI and RI analysis indicated a moderate vegetation recovery to pre-fire patterns, with regeneration to over 60% of the pre-fire levels 8-years after the fire. Regression analysis of pre- and post-fire mean NDVI exhibited significant re-growth in the first 3 years after the fire with a more gradual return in later years (an increase of 0.400 in R2 by 2006 compared to only an increase of 0.129 for the subsequent 5 years). Re-growth rates appeared to be somewhat higher in north-facing slopes in comparison to south facing ones. As expected, NDVI decline due to fire was positively correlated with burn severity class, whereas negative correlation was found between damage and regeneration ability (recovery after 3
years ¼ low severity 64%/high severity 58%, recovery after 8 years ¼ low severity 72%/high severity 70%). To our knowledge, this study is one of the few attempting to explore the interrelationships of post-fire vegetation regrowth, topography and burn severity, especially in the case of a single large fire. RI based on control plots provides a valuable tool to quantify fire impact and subsequent vegetation regrowth. Furthermore, indication of burn severity is useful for strategically rehabilitating areas of slow or unsuitable post-fire vegetation recovery. This study corroborates the significance of EO technology as a successful and cost-effective solution in providing information related to economic and environmental post-fire regeneration assessment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-248
Number of pages17
JournalApplied Geography
Early online date26 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Post-fire vegetation regeneration
  • Topography
  • Burn severity
  • Landsat
  • Remote sensing
  • Canada


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