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Early postfire seed dispersal, seedling establishment and seedling mortality of Pinus coulteri (D. Don) in central coastal California, USA

Borchert, M., Johnson, M., Schreiner, D.S., Vander Wall, S.B.
Plant ecology 2003 v.168 no.2 pp. 207-220
Pinus, forest trees, forest fires, seed dispersal, spatial distribution, wind, rodents, birds, seedling emergence, viability, mortality, seed cones, California
Seedling recruitment in many highly serotinous populations of Pinus coulteri on California's central coast depends almost entirely on periodic, stand-replacing fire. Compared to serotinous pines of the Mediterranean Basin, little detailed information is available on the postfire demography of California closed-cone pines, including P. coulteri. In September 1996 a wildfire burned the 760-ha American Canyon Research Natural Area (RNA). Using aerial photography, we mapped burn severity of P. coulteri-chaparral woodlands and forests within the RNA. From May to September of 1997, we also quantified seedling establishment and mortality in relation to biophysical site characteristics including fire severity. Seventy-six percent of P. coulteri forests and woodlands experienced high-severity burns, 9% moderate-severity burns, and 15% low-severity or unburned. Of the 53 plots used for seedling counts, 70% were high-severity, 26% moderate-severity, and 4% low-severity. Seedling densities 13 months postfire were low (0.21 m(-2)), but seedling mortality also was low (8.4%). Aerial seed bank size increased from north-facing to south-facing slopes and from high-severity to low-severity burns. Seedling recruitment was unrelated to burn severity and increased with the size of the canopy seed bank (cone density). Many seedlings established from rodent seed caches; 23% of the seedlings established in clumps from seeds cached by Dipodomys agilis, Chaetodipus californicus and Peromyscus maniculatus. Pinus coulteri seeds have low potential for dispersal by wind, but secondary dispersal by rodents moves seeds away from source trees and into neighboring chaparral. We discuss the potential importance of rodent seed caching to postfire demography of California and Mediterranean serotinous pines.