Wildland fire management directly affects the forces of natural selection to which plant taxa become adapted. Changes in a fire regime will often result in changes in the relative abundance of particular species, and may cause the extinction of some of them. Life-history characteristics are important indicators of adaptation to recurrent disturbance, such as may be produced by fire. The incorporation of these characteristics in a computer simulation allows of the projection of species abundance under different fire regimes.
Through prescribed burning and fire suppression, fire interval and fire intensity can be controlled to some extent. The fire intensity for given sets of fuel, site, and meteoro-logical conditions, representing given fire-intervals, is calculated with the use of a fire behaviour computer simulation. These results are incorporated in computer simulation of the demographic competition of the five dominant shrub species of coastal sage-scrub in the Santa Monica Mountains of southern California: Artemisia californica, Encelia californica, Eriogonum cinereum, Salvia leucophylla, and S. mellifera. The model incorporates resprouting proportions, seedling establishment, and growth, and assumes survivorship rates in simulating scramble competition for space. Foliar cover-values of the five species are projected for nine different fire regimes. Short fire-intervals of the order of 10–20 years, such as might occur under a regime of prescribed burning, may eliminate or greatly reduce some species, whereas longer intervals allow the maintenance of a more diverse community especially of shrubs. Fixed and variable interval-lengths do not produce appreciably different results.
This study suggests that prescribed burning at 10–20 years' intervals should not be used indiscriminately to reduce wildland fire hazard in southern California. The fire intervals that will reduce the hazard, may eliminate some dominant native shrub species. A ‘natural’ fire regime which would maintain the natural vegetation while constituting only a minimum hazard to homesites may, unfortunately, be mutually exclusive goals in the coastal sage-scrub of southern California.