Influence of fire refugia spatial pattern on post-fire forest recovery in Oregon’s Blue Mountains

Landscape Ecology
By: , and 

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Abstract

Context

Fire regimes in many dry forests of western North America are substantially different from historical conditions, and there is concern about the ability of these forests to recover following severe wildfire. Fire refugia, unburned or low-severity burned patches where trees survived fire, may serve as essential propagule sources that enable forest regeneration.

Objectives

To quantify the influence of fire refugia spatial pattern and other biophysical factors on the process of post-fire tree regeneration; in particular examining both the proximity and density of surrounding refugia to characterize the landscape of refugial seed sources.

Methods

We surveyed regeneration at 135 sites in stand-replacement patches across a gradient of fire refugia density in eastern Oregon, USA. We characterized the influence of refugial seed source pattern and other environmental factors on the abundance of regenerating seedlings, and examined the relationship between post-fire climate and the temporal pattern of ponderosa pine seedling establishment.

Results

Tree seedlings were present in 83% of plots 12–17 years post-fire, and densities varied substantially (0–67800 stems ha−1, median = 1100). Variation in seedling abundance was driven by the spatial patterns of refugial seed sources. Despite widespread post-fire shrub cover, high-severity burned forests have not undergone a persistent type conversion to shrublands. Ponderosa pine seedling establishment peaked 5–11 years after fire and was not closely associated with post-fire climate.

Conclusions

Fire refugia and the seed sources they contain fostered tree regeneration in severely burned patches. Management practices that reduce refugia within post-fire landscapes may negatively influence essential forest recovery processes.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Influence of fire refugia spatial pattern on post-fire forest recovery in Oregon’s Blue Mountains
Series title Landscape Ecology
DOI 10.1007/s10980-019-00802-1
Volume 34
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 22 p.
First page 771
Last page 792
Country United States
State Oregon
Other Geospatial Northeastern Oregon
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