Philip Higuera

Professor of Fire Ecology


Office Hours

Spring 2023: Tue. 3:00-4:30, Wed. 2:00-3:30

Curriculum Vitae
View/Download CV

Personal Summary

Philip 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. Research in his lab spans western North America and broadly addresses interactions among climate, wildfire, ecosystems, and people, across timescales of years to millennia. This work has revealed how fire activity varies with climate change in recent decades and the distant past, and how forest ecosystems respond to past and ongoing changes. Since 2016, collaborative efforts have increasingly focused on understanding wildfire as an integrated social-ecological phenomenon, helping address current societal challenges centered around living with wildfire.


  • 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: 

FORS 230 (3 cr.) - Fire Management and Environmental Change [spring 2018, co-taught, 1.5 cr 2019 and annually thereafter]

FORS 333 (3 cr.) - Fire Ecology [spring 2016, fall 2016, fall annually thereafter]

FORS 540 (3 cr.) - Fire and Disturbance Ecology [spring 2017, odd-yr springs thereafter]

FORS 595 (1-2 cr.) - Special Topics: Living with Wildfire [spring 2020, even-yr springs thereafter]

NRSM 265 (3 cr.) Elements of Ecological Restoration [co-taught, 1-2 cr., fall 2015 and annually 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, wildfire, ecosystems, and people 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:
    • Social-ecological resilience to wildfire
    • Climate-vegetation-fire interactions across a range of temporal scales in Rocky Mountain subalpine forests,and Alaskan boreal forests and tundra ecosystems 
    • Post-fire tree regeneration in Rocky Mountain forests and the western US
    • 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. 


Selected externally funded projects:

2023-2027: National Science Foundation, Arctic Natural Sciences (OPP-2215120): “Collaborative Research: The Past, Present, and Future of Boreal Fire Feedbacks” Higuera (co-PI), Brian Buma (PI, CU Denver), Melissa Chipman (co-PI, Syracuse Univ.), and Chad Hoffman (Colorado State Univ.). Total: >$1.5 million (UM $641,023).

2019-2023: USGS North-Central Climate Science Center, Cooperating Partner with CU Boulder (lead institution), “Social-ecological resilience to changing wildfire activity.” Higuera (UM PI). Total: $176,517.

2017-2022: National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology: "Causes and consequences of fire-regime variability in Rocky Mountain forests: Higuera (PI), and co-PIs Tara Hudiburg (U Idaho), Kendra McLauchlan (KS St. Univ.), and Bryan Shuman (U Wyoming). Total: $860,087 (University of Montana $351,300) 

2016-2020: USDI, BLM, Joint Fire Science Program: “Identifying ecological and social resilience in fire-prone landscapes” Higuera (PI), and co-PIs Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf, Alex Metcalf, Dave McWethy (MT St. Univ.), and Carol Miller (USFS). Total: $290,560 (University of Montana $227,926).

2016-2019: USDI, BLM, Joint Fire Science Program: “Climate variability and post-fire forest regeneration in the Northern Rockies.” Higuera (PI), and co-PIs Kimberly Davis (principal author), S. Dobrowski, and Sean Parks (USFS). Total: $355,327

2014-2016: USDI, BLM, Joint Fire Science Program, Graduate Research and Innovation: Spatially-explicit impacts of climate on past, present, and future fire regimes in Alaskan boreal forest and tundra ecosystems. Adam Young (student investigator, U Idaho), Higuera (PI). Total: $24,999.

2013-2018: National Science Foundation, Macrosystems Ecology (1241846): “Collaborative Research and NEON: MSB Category 2: PalEON - a PaleoEcological Observatory Network to Assess Terrestrial Ecosystem Models.” Jason McLachlan, Notre Dame (lead PI), Higuera (UMontana lead), et al. Total: > $4 million, University of Montana, $449,778.

2012-2015: USDI, BLM, Joint Fire Science Program, Graduate Research and Innovation: Interactions Among Climate, Wildfire, and Tree Regeneration at Lower Treeline in the Northern Rockies. Kerry Kemp (student investigator), Higuera (PI). Total: $24,999.

2011-2016: National Science Foundation, Research Coordination Network (1145815), “RCN: The Novus project for integrating paleo- and neo-ecosystem ecology.” Kendra McLauchlan, Kansas State University (PI), and co-PIs Daniel Gavin and Philip Higuera. Total: $505,409, University of Idaho, $0.

2010-2016: National Science Foundation, Partnerships for International Research and Education (0966472): “PIRE: Wildfire feedbacks and consequences of altered fire regimes in the face of climate and land-use change in Tasmania, New Zealand, and the western U.S.”  Cathy Whitlock (PI), Higuera (co-PI, UIdaho lead), et al. Total: > $3,800,000, University of Idaho, $335,203.

2010-2015: National Science Foundation, Arctic System Science (1023669): “Collaborative Research: Integrating paleoecological analysis and ecological modeling to elucidate the responses of tundra fire regimes to climate change.” Feng Sheng Hu (PI) and co-PIs, Mike Dietze, Paul Duffy, and Philip Higuera (UIdaho lead). Total:  > $1,100,000 (+ $370 k logistical support), University of Idaho, $456,612.

Field of Study

  • Forest and Fire Ecology
  • PaleoEcology
  • Climate-fire-ecosystem Interactions
  • Social-ecological Resilience
  • Environmental Change

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 

*Clark-Wolf, K.D., P.E. Higuera, K.K. McLauchlan, B.N. Shuman, and M.C. Parish. 2023. Fire-regime variability and ecosystem resilience over four millennia in a Rocky Mountain subalpine watershed. Journal of Ecology. 111: 2549-2780 doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.14201. *Featured on JoE's blog.

*Clark-Wolf, K.D., P.E. Higuera, B.N. Shuman, and K.K. McLauchlan. 2023. Wildfire activity in northern Rocky Mountain subalpine forests still within millennial-scale range of variability. Environmental Research Letters. 18: 094029. doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/acee16 

@Peeler, J.L., L. McCauley, K.L. Metlen, T. Woolley, K.T. Davis, M.D. Robles, R.D. Haugo, R.K. Riley, P.E. Higuera, J.E. Fargione, R.N. Addington, S. Bassett, K. Blankenship, M.J. Case, T.B. Chapman, E. Smith, R. Swaty, and N. Welch. Identifying Opportunity Hot Spots for Reducing the Risk of Wildfire-Caused Carbon Loss in Western US Conifer ForestsEnvironmental Research Letters 18: 094040. doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/acf05a. [UM Press Relese]

Davis, K.T., Robles, M.D., Kemp, K.B., Higuera, P.E., an 59 others. Reduced Fire Severity Offers Near-Term Buffer to Climate-Driven Declines in Conifer Resilience across the Western United StatesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 120: e2208120120.  [UM Press Release]

Higuera, P.E., M.C. Cook, J.K. Balch, E.N. Stavros, A.L. Mahood, and L.A. St. Denis. 2023. Shifting social-ecological fire regimes explain increasing structure loss from Western wildfiresPNAS Nexus 2, doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgad005 Selected media coverage: The MissoulianMontana Public RadioHigh Country News (re-post of our piece written for The Conversation) [UM Press Release

*Clark-WolfK.P. E. Higuera, and K. T. Davis. 2022. Conifer seedling demography reveals mechanisms of initial forest resilience to wildfires in the northern Rocky MountainsForest Ecology and Management doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2022.120487 

Shuman, J.K., J.K. Balch, R.T. Barnes, P.E. Higuera, C.I. Roos, D.W. Schwilk, E.N. Stavros, and 80 others. Reimagine fire science for the anthropocenePNAS Nexus 1, doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac115

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.

Professional Experience

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

2021-2022 -- Visiting sabbatical fellow, Earth Lab, Cooperative Institute for Research In Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder (Oct. – Feb.)

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


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 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 nordic skiing during Montana winters. A local highlight from Feb. 2020 was a one-day ski traverse of Rattlesnake Mountains, from the (base of the) Snowbowl ski area 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 Missoula 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 one of the most amazing backcountry scenes I've experienced in over 30 years of exploring mountains, within c. 15 miles of Missoula.