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Unraveling the relative importance of factors driving post-fire regeneration trajectories in non-serotinous Pinus nigra forests

Martín-Alcón, Santiago, Coll, Lluís
Forest ecology and management 2016 v.361 pp. 13-22
Pinus nigra, botanical composition, canopy, fire behavior, fires, forests, fuels (fire ecology), grasslands, land use, landscapes, shrublands, topography, trees
In the Mediterranean, non-serotinous pinewoods are suffering an increasing occurrence of high-severity crown fires that usually drive vegetation shifts to fire-adapted communities and a decrease in pine-dominated area. Here we used a case-study approach on a large area dominated by Pinus nigra Arn. ssp. salzmannii burned in 1998 to gain further understanding of the relative importance of different factors related to local topography (elevation, aspect, slope, curvature), pre-fire vegetation (land-use history, canopy cover) and fire behavior (burn severity, presence of unburned patches) as drivers of post-fire regeneration dynamics. The results find that pine shows locally resilient responses driven mainly by factors related to fire effects (presence of unburned patches) and the characteristics of the pre-fire vegetation (i.e. stable forest areas). When fire-induced changes from pine dominance to other types of vegetation occurred, landscape 15years post-fire was dominated by woody vegetation, with some rare grassland communities emerging under very specific conditions (mountain ridges, hilltops and rocky sites). Conversion from forest to shrubland occurred mainly in the most xeric sites (south-facing areas, in some cases with steep slopes) and areas dominated by young pine stands prior to the fire. We found manageable factors such as the pre-fire structure and composition of the vegetation strongly determine the occurrence of post-fire regeneration trajectories dominated by tree species regeneration. This knowledge can be used to define preventive management strategies oriented to direct regeneration dynamics in anticipation of fire occurrence. At landscape level, managing forest fuels to favor the occurrence of unburned patches and modify their spatial distribution along the burned landscape will favor a more resilient pine response. At stand level, adjusting silvicultural interventions to favor the natural establishment of late-successional tree species will favor post-fire oak regeneration.