Obligate seeding species are highly specialized to fire disturbance and many conifers such as cypress, which are adapted to high intensity stand-replacing fires, have canopy seed banks stored in serotinous cones. Resilience of these trees to fire disturbance is a function of disturbance frequency and one focus of this study was to determine the effect of patch age on postfire recruitment. A second focus was to determine the extent to which fire induced a landscape level change in the location of the forest boundary. Prior to a fire in 1994, a large Cupressus sargentii forest was a mosaic landscape of different aged patches of nearly pure cypress bordered by chaparral. Patches less than 60 years of age were relatively dense with roughly one tree every 1-2 m2 but older patches had thinned to one tree every 3-15 m2. Older trees had substantially greater canopy cone crops but the stand level seed bank size was not significantly correlated with stand age. Fire-dependent obligate seeding species are sensitive to fire return interval because of potential changes in the size of seed banks - facing both a potential 'immaturity risk' and a 'senescence risk'. At our site, C. sargentii regeneration was substantial in stands as young as 20 years, suggesting that fire return interval would need to be shorter than this to pose any significant risk. Reduced seedling recruitment in stands nearly 100 years of age may indicate risk from senescence is greater, however, even the lowest density seedling recruitment was many times greater than the density of mature forests - thus this cypress would appear to be resilient to a wide range of fire return intervals. Changes in landscape patterning of forest and chaparral are unlikely except after fire. Factors that inhibit tree establishment within the shrubland, as well as factors that affect shrub establishment within the forest border likely affect the 'permeability' of this ecotone. After the 1994 fire this boundary appeared to be stable in that cypress recruited best within the shadow of burned canopies and cypress were weak invaders of adjacent shrublands.
Additional publication details
Patch to landscape patterns in post fire recruitment of a serotinous conifer