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Zombie Forests

Sierra Nevada Forest
Zombie Forests

Once-thriving ecosystems now struggling to adapt to climate change represent a high risk factor for catastrophic wildfire.

Identifying Zombie Forests and Co-designing Adaptive Management Strategies

Stanford researchers led by Chris Field are developing climate-niche-modeling techniques based on the idea of vegetation disequilibrium to identify ‘zombie’ forests that, due to climate change, are no longer in equilibrium with their climate. The researchers, in partnership with the Sierra Nevada Alliance and iNaturalist, a joint effort of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, are also focused on co-designing adaptive management solutions with community members in high risk areas. 

Zombie forests, surviving now due to ecological inertia but likely doomed as the climate no longer supports them,  are expected to be at high risk for catastrophic fire. Catastrophic fires that will facilitate vegetation transitions are inevitable in the absence of intentional management. By mapping the distribution of zombie forests, analyzing the relationship between zombie forests and historical fires, and quantifying the contribution of zombie forests to future wildfire risk in California, researchers can enable the policy and regulatory sectors to  better plan to protect communities. 

Related Researchers

Chris Field

Senior Fellow
Faculty Director, Stanford Woods Institute
Humanities and Sciences, Sustainability

Connor Nolan

Postdoctoral Scholar