Moisture and vegetation cover limit ponderosa pine regeneration in high-severity burn patches in the southwestern US

Megan P. Singleton, Andrea E. Thode, Andrew J. Sánchez Meador, Jose M. Iniguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Fire regimes are shifting in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson)-dominated forests, raising concern regarding future vegetation patterns and forest resilience, particularly within high-severity burn patches. The southwestern US has recently experienced a marked increase in large fires that produce large, high-severity patch interiors, with few surviving trees. These areas could be more susceptible for forest loss and conversions to alternative vegetation types than areas closer to the forest edge with more available seed sources. To better understand forest recovery, we surveyed ponderosa pine regeneration within edge and core areas (>200 m from edge) of high-severity patches in ten fires that burned between 1996 to 2008 across Arizona and New Mexico, USA. Specifically, we compared regeneration density, height, and canopy cover in patch edge and core areas and used generalized linear models to investigate the abiotic and biotic factors that contribute to ponderosa pine seedling establishment and density. Results: High-severity burn-patch edge and core plots were not significantly different in seedling density, height, or canopy cover across fires. Seedling establishment was more likely at higher-elevation mesic sites and less likely when Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) was more abundant. Seedling density was negatively impacted by shrub, grass, and Gambel oak cover. Conclusions: Regeneration density varied among fires but analysis of regeneration in aggregated edge and core plots showed that abundance of seed availability was not the sole factor that limited ponderosa pine regeneration, probably because of surviving tree refugia within high-severity burn patches. Furthermore, our findings emphasize that ponderosa pine regeneration in our study area was significantly impacted by xeric topographic environments and vegetation competition. Continued warm and dry conditions and increased wildfire activity may delay the natural recovery of ponderosa pine forests, underscoring the importance of restoration efforts in large, high-severity burn patches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14
JournalFire Ecology
Volume17
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • fire ecology
  • high severity
  • ponderosa pine
  • seedling establishment
  • tree regeneration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)

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