Philip Higuera

Photo of Higuera, Philip

Philip Higuera

Professor of Fire Ecology

Website: http://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab
Curriculum Vitae: View/Download CV

Office Hours:

On sabbatical for 2021-2022 academic year. 

Personal Summary

Phil Higuera is a professor of fire ecology in the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences at the University of Montana. He directs the PaleoEcology and Fire Ecology Lab, funded largely from the National Science Foundation and Joint Fire Science Program, and he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in fire and disturbance ecology. Work from his lab spans western North America and has revealed how fire activity varies with climate change in recent decades and the distant past, and how forest ecosystems have responded to these changes. In 2018, he was named one of Clarivate Analytics’ “highly cited scientists,” for papers published over the previous decade.

Education

  • Ph.D., Forest Ecology, University of Washington, Seattle, 2006
  • M.S., Forest Ecology, University of Washington, Seattle, 2002
  • B.A., Biology, Environmental Studies, Geology, Middlebury College, Vermont, 1998, magna cum laude

Courses Taught

University of Montana: 

NRSM 265 - Elements of Ecological Restoration [co-taught, 1 cr., fall 2015 and annually thereafter]

FORS 230 - Fire Management and Environmental Change [spring 2018, co-taught, 1.5 cr 2019 and annually thereafter]

FORS 333 - Fire Ecology [spring 2016, fall 2016, fall annually thereafter]

FORS 540 - Fire and Disturbance Ecology [spring 2017, odd-yr springs thereafter]

2010-2015, Assistant Professor, College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho 

Fire Ecology and Management (FOR 326/426), annually, 2010-2014

Fire Behavior (FOR 450), annually, 2010-2015

Computational Data Analysis and Visualization (FOR 504), 2012, 2014

Altered Ecologies (FOR 504-02), 2013

Global Fire and Ecological Feedbacks (FOR 504-02), 2011

Research Interests

Research in the PaleoEcology and Fire Ecology Lab focuses on understanding the interactions among climate, vegetation, and wildfire activity over a range of spatial and temporal scales, in the past, present, and future. Understanding ecological change over time integrates projects within the lab, revealing patterns and processes unobservable over human life spans, providing context for ongoing environmental change, and helping anticipate the consequences of future environmental change.

  • Current themes:
    • Post-fire tree regeneration in Rocky Mountain forests
    • Social-ecological resilience to wildfire
    • Climate-vegetation-fire interactions across a range of temporal scales in boreal forest, subalpine forest, and arctic tundra ecosystemsAlaskan boreal forests 
    • Informing terrestrial ecosystem models with paleoecological data
  • Tools:
    • The lab uses lake sediments, tree rings, observational records, and statistical modeling to study ecosystems from time scales spanning the past several decades to the past 15,000 years.
  • Locations:
    • Western North Ameirca, focusing in the Rocky Moutnains and Alaska. 

Field of Study

  • Forest and Fire Ecology
  • Paleoecology
  • Climate-vegetation-fire Interactions
  • Environmental Change

Affiliations

Systems Ecology Intercolegiet Graduate Program

Professional Experience

2021 --> Professor, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana

2015-2021 -- Associate Professor, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana

2009-2015 -- Assistant Professor, Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho

2006-2009 -- Adjunct Instructor, Department of Earth Science, Montana State University, National Park Ecological Research Fellow, Whitlock Paleoecology Lab, Montana State University

Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Hu Quaternary Paleoecology Lab, University of Illinois

2002-2005 -- National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, Brubaker Paleoecology Lab, University of Washington

1999-2006 -- Research Assistant, Brubaker Paleoecology Lab, University of Washington

1999 -- Research Intern, Archbold Biological Station, Lake Placid, Florida

Hobbies

Like many UM faculty, being outside in the mountains energizes me and contributes greatly to my quality of life. Exploring the landscapes of our region also directly inspires my research and teaching. Here are a few of the things I love to do, with some recent highlights: 

  • Mountain biking, bikepacking, and cyclocross: Missoula has a rich and active cycling community, including many UM faculty. I love participating in local and regional mountain bike and cyclocross races, doing longer bikepacking trips in the region. In June/July 2020 I bikepacked from Superior, MT, to Hailey, ID, along the Wild West Route, which made its way into a news piece on fire management in the time of COVID-19
  • Backcountry skiing and cross-country skiing: I love backcountry telemark skiing and cross-country skiing during Montana winters. A local highlight from Feb. 2020, pre-pandemic, was a one-day ski traverse of Rattlesnake Mountains, from the (base of the) Snowbowl to main Rattlesnake trailhead.  
  • Hiking and backpacking: From short hikes on Mount Sentinel to multi-day backpacking trips in the region, there are endless areas to explore on foot. A recent highlight was a four-day trip leaving from home, biking to the Rattlesnake Wilderness boundary, and then backpacking through the wilderness area. On our last day, we saw wolves attempting kill an elk calf. It was legitimately one of the most amazing backcountry scenes I've experienced in over 30 years of exploring mountains, within c. 15 miles of Missoula.   

Selected Publications

Visit the PaleoEcology and Fire Ecology Lab web page to access these and all other Lab publications.

*Graduate student (co-)author

@Post-doc co-author 

Higuera, P.E., B.N. Shuman, and *K.D. Wolf. 2021. Rocky Mountain subalpine forests now burning more than any time in recent millennia. [PDFProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118:e2103135118. [Univ. of Montana Press Release] Selected media coverate: CNN, Mongabay.

 *Wolf, K.D.P.E. Higuera, K.T. Davis, and S.Z. Dobrowski. 2021. Wildfire impacts on forest microclimate vary with biophysical context. Ecosphere 12:e03467.

Higuera, P.E., and J.T. Abatzoglou. 2021. Record-setting climate enabled the extraordinary 2020 fire season in the western United StatesGlobal Change Biology. 27:1-2. *Invited editorial

Davis, K.T., P.E. Higuera, S. Dobrowski, S.A. Parks, J.T. Abatzoglou, M. Rother, and T.T. Veblen. 2020. Fire-catalyzed vegetation shifts in ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests of the western United StatesEnvironmental Research Letters[Univ. of Montana Press Release] 

Chileen, B.V., K.K. McLauchlan, P.E. Higuera, M. Parish, and B.N. Shuman. 2020. Vegetation response to wildfire and climate forcing in a Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine forest over the past 2500 yearsThe Holocene 30: 1493–1503 doi.org/10.1177%2F0959683620941068

*Hoecker, T.J., P.E. Higuera, R. Kelly, and F.S. Hu. 2020. Arctic and boreal paleofire records reveal drivers of fire activity and departures from Holocene variabilityEcology 101: 03096 

McWethy, D.B., T. Schoennagel, P.E. Higuera, M.A. Krawchuk, B.J. Harvey, E.C. Metcalf, C.A. Schultz, C. Miller, A.L. Metcalf, B. Buma, A. Virapongse, J.C. Kulig, R.C. Stedman, Z. Ratajczak, C.R. Nelson, and C.A. Kolden. 2019. Rethinking Resilience to Wildfire. Nature Sustainability 2: 797-804.

Higuera, P.E., A.L. Metcalf, C. Miller, B. Buma, D.B. McWethy, E. C. Metcalf, Z. Ratajczak, C.R. Nelson, B.C. Chaffin, R.C. Stedman, S. McCaffrey, T. Schoennagel, B.J. Harvey, S.M. Hood, C.A. Schultz, A.E. Black, D. Campbell, J.H. Haggerty, R.E. Keane, M.A. Krawchuk, J.C. Kulig, R. Rafferty, and A. Virapongse. 2019. Integrating subjective and objective dimensions of resilience in fire-prone landscapes. BioScience, 69: 379-388. [Univ. of Montana Press Release] *Editors Choice

@Davis, K.T., S.Z. Dobrowski, P.E. Higuera, Z.A. Holden, T.T. Veblen, M.T. Rother, S.A. Parks, A. Sala, and M.P. Maneta. 2019. Wildfires and climate change push low-elevation forests across a critical climate threshold for tree regenerationProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116: 6193-6198. Selected media coverage: ScienceDailyCNNBBC - Science in ActionThe Scientist, Montana Public Radio, The Missoulian [Univ. of Montana Press Release

*Hankin, L.E., P.E. Higuera, @K.T. Davis, and S.Z. Dobrowski. 2019. Impacts of growing-season climate on tree growth and post-fire regeneration in ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forestsEcosphere 10(4):e02679

*Hoecker, T.J., and P.E. Higuera. 2019. Forest succession and climate variability interacted to control fire activity over the last four centuries in an Alaskan boreal landscape. Landscape Ecology, 34: 227-241

*Young, A.M., P.E. Higuera, J.T. Abatzoglou, P.A. Duffy, and F.S. Hu. 2019. Consequences of climatic thresholds for projecting fire activity and ecological change. Global Ecology & Biogeography, 28: 521-532. 

Kemp, K.B., P.E. Higuera, P. Morgan, and J.T. Abatzoglou. 2019. Climate will increasingly determine post-fire tree regeneration success in low-elevation forests, Northern Rockies, USA. Ecosphere, 10: e02568. doi: 10.1002/ecs2.2568

@Davis, K.T., S.Z. Dobrowski, Z.A. Holden, P.E. Higuera, and J.T. Abatzoglou. 2019. Microclimatic buffering in forests of the future: The role of local water balanceEcography, 42: 1-11. Editors Choice, Video Abstract.  Selected media coverage: ScienceDaily [Univ. of Montana Press Release]

*Hankin, L.E.P.E. Higuera, @K.T. Davis, and S.Z. Dobrowski. 2018. Accuracy of node and bud-scar counts for aging two dominant conifers in western North AmericaForest Ecology and Management, 427:365-371.

@Davis, K.T.P.E. Higuera, A. Sala. 2018. Anticipating fire-mediated impacts of climate change using a demographic frameworkFunctional Ecology, 32: 1729-1745.

Stevens-Rumann, C.S., Kemp, K.B., Higuera, P.E., Harvey, B.J., Rother, M.T., Donato, D.C., Morgan, P. & Veblen, T.T. 2018. Evidence for declining forest resilience to wildfires under climate change. Ecology Letters, 21: 243-252.

Hudiburg, T.W., P.E. Higuera, and J.A. Hicke. 2017. Fire-regime variability impacts forest carbon dynamics for centuries to millennia. Biogeosciences. 14: 3873-3882. 

Crausbay, S.D., P.E. Higuera, D.G. Sprugel, and L.B. Brubaker. 2017. Fire catalyzed rapid ecological change in lowland coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest over the past 14,000 years. Ecology. 98: 2356-2369. 

*Young, A.M., P.E. Higuera, P.A. Duffy, and F.S. Hu. 2017. Climatic thresholds shape northern high-latitude fire regimes and imply vulnerability to future climate change. Ecography.  40: 606-617

Leys, B., P.E. Higuera, K.K. McLauchlan, and *P.V. Dunnette. 2016. Wildfires and geochemical change in a subalpine forest over the past six millennia. Environmental Research Letters. 11: 125003.

*Kemp, K.B., P.E. Higuera, and P. Morgan. 2016. Fire legacies impact conifer regeneration across environmental gradients in the U.S. northern Rockies. Landscape Ecology. 31: 619-636.

Hu, F.S., P.E. Higuera, P.A. Duffy, M.L. Chipman, A.V. Rocha, *A.M. Young, R. Kelly, and M.C. Dietze. 2015. Tundra fires in the Arctic: Natural variability and responses to climate change. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 13: 369-377.

Higuera, P. E., J. T. Abatzoglou, J. S. Littell, and P. Morgan. 2015. The changing strength and nature of fire-climate relationships in the northern Rocky Mountains, U.S.A., 1902-2008. PLoS ONE, 10:e0127563.

Higuera, P.E., C.E. Briles, and C. Whitlock. 2014. Fire-regime complacency and sensitivity to centennial- through millennial-scale climate change in Rocky Mountain subalpine forests, Colorado, U.S.A. 2014. Journal of Ecology, 102: 1429-1441            

*Dunnette P.V., P.E. Higuera, K.K. McLauchlan, K.M. Derr, C.E. Briles, M.H. Keefe. 2014. Biogeochemical impacts of wildfires over four millennia in a Rocky Mountain subalpine watershed. New Phytologist, 203: 900-912.         

McLauchlan, K., P.E. Higuera, D.G. Gavin, S. S. Perakis, M.C. Mack, H. Alexander, J. Battles, F. Biondi, B. Buma, D. Colombaroli, S. Enders, D.R. Engstrom, F.S. Hu, J.R. Marlon, J.D. Marshal, M. McGlone, J.L. Morris, L.E. Nave, B.N. Shuman, E.A.H. Smithwick, D.H. Urrego, D.A. Wardel, C.J. Williams, and J.J. Williams. 2014. Reconstructing disturbances and their biogeochemical consequences over multiple timescales. Bioscience, 64: 105-116.

Kelly, R. F., M.L. Chipman, P.E. Higuera, V. Stefanova, L.B. Brubaker, and F.S. Hu. 2013. Recent burning of boreal forests exceeds variability of the past 10,000 years. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110: 13055-13060. 

Higuera, P.E., C. Whitlock, and J. Gage. 2011. Fire history and climate-vegetation-fire linkages in subalpine forests of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, U.S.A., AD 1240-1975. The Holocene, 21:327-341.

Higuera, P.E., Chipman, M.L., Barnes, J.L., Urban, M.A., Hu, F.S. 2011. Variability of tundra fire regimes in Arctic Alaska: millennial scale patterns and ecological implications. Ecological Applications, 21: 3211-3226.

Higuera, P.E., L.B. Brubaker, P.M. Anderson, F.S. Hu, and T.A. Brown. 2009. Vegetation mediated the impacts of postglacial climate change on fire regimes in the south-central Brooks Range, Alaska. Ecological Monographs, 79: 201-219.

Higuera, P.E., L.B. Brubaker, P.M. Anderson, T.A. Brown, A.T. Kennedy, and F.S. Hu. 2008. Frequent Fires in Ancient Shrub Tundra: Implications of Paleorecords for Arctic Environmental Change. PLoS ONE, 3:e0001744.

Higuera, P.E., D.G. Sprugel, and L.B. Brubaker. 2005. Reconstructing fire regimes with charcoal from small-hollow sediments: a calibration with tree-ring records of fire. The Holocene, 15:238-251.

Graduate Students

For current and past graduate stuents, please see the Lab web page.