Title: Persistent effects of fire severity on early successional forests in interior Alaska
Author: Shenoy, Aditi; Johnstone, Jill F.; Kasischke, Eric S.; Kielland, Knut.
Source: Forest Ecology and Management. 261: 381-390
Description: There has been a recent increase in the frequency and extent of wildfires in interior Alaska, and this trend is predicted to continue under a warming climate. Although less well documented, corresponding increases in fire severity are expected. Previous research from boreal forests in Alaska and western Canada indicate that severe fire promotes the recruitment of deciduous tree species and decreases the relative abundance of black spruce (Picea mariana) immediately after fire. Here we extend these observations by (1) examining changes in patterns of aspen and spruce density and biomass that occurred during the first two decades of post-fire succession, and (2) comparing patterns of tree composition in relation to variations in post-fire organic layer depth in four burned black spruce forests in interior Alaska after 10-20 years of succession. We found that initial effects of fire severity on recruitment and establishment of aspen and black spruce were maintained by subsequent effects of organic layer depth and initial plant biomass on plant growth during post-fire succession. The proportional contribution of aspen (Populus tremuloides) to total stand biomass remained above 90% during the first and second decades of succession in severely burned sites, while in lightly burned sites the proportional contribution of aspen was reduced due to a 40-fold increase in spruce biomass in these sites. Relationships between organic layer depth and stem density and biomass were consistently negative for aspen, and positive or neutral for black spruce in all four burns. Our results suggest that initial effects of post-fire organic layer depths on deciduous recruitment are likely to translate into a prolonged phase of deciduous dominance during post-fire succession in severely burned stands. This shift in vegetation distribution has important implications for climate-albedo feedbacks, future fire regime, wildlife habitat quality and natural resources for indigenous subsistence activities in interior Alaska.
Keywords: boreal forest, soil organic layer, Picea mariana, Populus tremuloides, self-thinning
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Shenoy, Aditi; Johnstone, Jill F.; Kasischke, Eric S.; Kielland, Knut. 2011. Persistent effects of fire severity on early successional forests in interior Alaska. Forest Ecology and Management. 261: 381-390.