Posts By Christopher Roos

Is Anthropogenic Pyrodiversity Invisible in Paleofire Records?



Around the globe, anthropogenic burning regimes often involve burning very small patches at relatively high frequencies. This creates a fine-grained mosaic of post-fire succession communities that benefits many species and often promotes biodiversity. This anthropogenic pyrodiversity is often difficult to identify in the historical ecology of environments that already experience frequent fires. Is this a weakness of paleofire methods? Is it an inherent problem in identifying fire regime differences that are relatively low-contrast?

In a recent paper with Grant Williamson and David Bowman in the journal Fire, I explore these issues with a simple cellular model of varying fire regimes and simulated fire-scar tree-ring records. Although anthropogenic pyrodiversity is not necessarily invisible in paleofire records, it is much easier to identify when paleofire and cultural information are integrated.

You can find the paper here or on my publications page.

Roos, Christopher I., Grant W. Williamson, and David M.J.S. Bowman (2019) Is Anthropogenic Pyrodiversity Invisible in Paleofire Records? Fire, 2, 42.

Native Fire: Prescribed Fire through Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Tribal communities and their traditional wisdom play an important role in fire management of our forests and rangelands today and into the future.

Jemez Pueblo offers centuries of valuable fire lessons

In the wake of the devastating 2018 fire season in California, I penned a guest column for the Albuquerque Journal on the lessons from the past to coexist with wildfire today. Ancestors of Native American residents of Jemez Pueblo lived sustainably in fire-prone Southwestern Ponderosa Pine forests for centuries. I have been fortunate to work with tribal members from Jemez Pueblo in an interdisciplinary research project to document fire and human history in their ancestral landscape.

We tend to treat our contemporary fire problems as uniquely modern ones. This overlooks the thousands of years of experience that indigenous communities have with fire on their lands. We have a lot to learn from the past. We should look to interdisciplinary environmental archaeology and the traditional ecological knowledge still held in these native communities today to help us make better decisions as our forests and communities are transformed by fire risk on a warming planet.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1260496

Fire, Climate, and Society at the Archaeology Cafe

This is a Throwback Thursday post to share the video of a public talk I gave as part of the Archaeology Southwest Archaeology Cafe series in Tucson in 2016. Here I talk about my work in Arizona documenting the benefits of indigenous burning on the long-term resilience of Southwestern forests.

NPR interview on KERA – Native American fire and bison hunting

Here is some more news coverage of my recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I was interviewed by KERA’s Justin Martin, the local host for All Things Considered. You can read a summary and listen to the interview here.

You can access the original paper here or on my Publications page.

Roos, Christopher I., María Nieves Zedeño, Kacy L. Hollenback, and Mary M. H. Erlick (2018) Indigenous Impacts on North American Great Plains Fire Regimes of the Last Millennium. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115:8143-8148.

CBC interview on ‘Quirks and Quarks’ – Native fire use and bison

I recently had the pleasure to do an interview on a CBC science radio show, ‘Quirks and Quarks’, about our recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the sophisticated ways that Native hunters used fire to manage prairies and manipulate bison herds. You can read more and listen to the interview here.

Our work was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can find a link to the work here and on my Publications page.

Roos, Christopher I., María Nieves Zedeño, Kacy L. Hollenback, and Mary M. H. Erlick (2018) Indigenous Impacts on North American Great Plains Fire Regimes of the Last Millennium. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115:8143-8148.

 

New paper on fire, bison hunting, and climate

Native bison hunters on the northwestern Great Plains used fire to manipulate bison grazing patterns and increase the success rates of communal hunts. In so doing, they leveraged climate opportunities to burn, ultimately amplifying the effects of climate on prairie fire activity.

Using geoarchaeology and landscape archaeology, my colleagues and I document this sophisticated fire use between 1100 and 1650 CE associated with the use of stone demarcated drive lanes and jumps to harvest bison en masseBison prefer to graze recently burned patches. When climate conditions were right, indigenous hunters burned prairie near the mouth of these drive lanes to lure bison herds in. Once within the gathering basin of a drive line complex, the hunters could initiate a stampede and funnel the bison towards the jump. By using climate conditions in their decision making, Native hunters were amplifying the impact of climate variability on prairie fire activity.

Our work was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can find a link to the work here and on my Publications page.

Roos, Christopher I., María Nieves Zedeño, Kacy L. Hollenback, and Mary M. H. Erlick (2018) Indigenous Impacts on North American Great Plains Fire Regimes of the Last Millennium. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115:8143-8148.

What kind of fire can we live with?

We often ask the wrong question: how do we stop wildfires? The real question should be: what kinds of fire can we live with?

Environmental archaeology can be valuable here because we can learn from the successes and failures of past societies to live in fire-prone settings. This is what my colleagues and I have been doing in partnership with the Pueblo of Jemez in northern New Mexico. How did Jemez people live in fire-adapted ponderosa pine forests so successfully for centuries when we are in danger of losing this forest type to mega-fires today?

I recently had an opportunity to chat about these issues with my old schoolmate, Maya Lilly. She has made a video from that chat for her environmentally conscious lifestyle channel, Gungho Eco. Check it out.

New charcoal methods paper published

Contrasting reflectances of charcoal from the 2013 Thompson Ridge Fire. Width of frame ~1mm. Photomicrograph by A. Scott.

I have a new paper out today in the International Journal of WIldland Fire. This paper was a collaboration with geologist Andrew Scott from Royal Holloway University, in which we compare charcoal reflectance between samples from crown and surface fire contexts in northern New Mexico.

Our analysis indicates that charcoal produced by surface fires is statistically distinguishable from charcoal produced by crown fires. This is an important methodological development, as it suggests that reflectance of stratified soil and sedimentary charcoal may be used to infer changes in fire severity over time. 

You can find the article at the journal here or on my publications page.

Roos, Christopher I. and Andrew C. Scott
2018    A Comparison of Charcoal Reflectance between Crown and Surface Fire Contexts in Dry Southwest US Forests.International Journal of Wildland Fire 27:396-406. [PDF] [LINK]

Pyrogeography at SMU

Photo by Ignacio Peralta, Carson National Forest (2003).

What is pyrogeography? In a nutshell, it is the holistic study of fire on earth from its earliest beginnings more than 400 million years ago to the present. Fire has influenced the evolution of biota, including our lineage, for millions of years. Human fire-use was a multi-purpose tool that facilitated our migrations across the globe. Today, human communities and our surrounding environments face a number of challenges to cope with wildfire. Some of these problems are novel, whereas others have historical precedent. For example, as human settlements have encroached upon fire-prone forests in the Western US (and elsewhere), we are struggling to cope with the reality that fire and smoke are an inevitable part of these settings. Living with wildfire, however, is something that our ancestors dealt with as a fact of life. We can learn a lot from our ancestors.

For example, we can learn how ancient societies lived with fire and smoke, used fire as a tool on the landscape, and made “fire-wise” communities through their wood-use practices. My research group at SMU is tackling these very issues in places as varied as the forested Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, the prairies of northern Montana, and tropical dry forests of Viti Levu, Fiji. You can find out more on my research and publication pages. My group also published a magazine for the general public on our work in New Mexico via Archaeology Southwest that can be found here

Undergraduate and graduate students are involved in this research as research assistants and several have taken elements of these projects to develop senior theses in Environmental Studies or PhD dissertations in Anthropology. Additionally, I have recently developed two new courses on pyrogeography at SMU. ANTH 3370 – Fire on Earth is a fall semester course that introduces students to the holistic field of pyrogeography, with components on the geology, ecology, history, and anthropology of fire. ANTH 3373 – Living with Fire is a course that I developed specifically for our beautiful SMU-in-Taos campus. Taught in the May term, this course focuses on political and ecological history of the contemporary wildfire problem in the Western US. Taking advantage of the location of the SMU-in-Taos campus in fire-prone pine forests and taking a day-long field trip to the Jemez Mountains, this class uses place-based experiential learning to give students a platform to explore lessons from the past for the future of human communities in fire-prone landscapes.

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