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Title: Long-term effects of fire severity on oak–conifer dynamics in the southern Cascades

Author: Cocking, Matthew I.; Varner, J. Morgan; Knapp, Eric E.;

Date: 2014

Source: Ecological Applications, 24(1), pp. 94–107

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: We studied vegetation composition and structure in a mixed conifer–oak ecosystem across a range of fire severity 10 years following wildfire. Sample plots centered on focal California black oaks (Quercus kelloggii) were established to evaluate oak and neighboring tree and shrub recovery across a gradient of fire severity in the southern Cascade Range, USA. Shrub and oak resprouting was strongest around focal oaks where conifer mortality was greatest. Linear modeling revealed negative relationships between California black oak sprout height or basal area and residual overstory tree survival, primarily white fir (Abies concolor). The two dominant competing species, California black oak and white fir, showed opposite responses to fire severity. Sprouting California black oak and associated shrubs dominated in severely burned areas, while surviving, non-sprouting white fir maintained dominance by its height advantage and shading effects in areas that burned with low fire severity. Our results indicate that high-severity fire promotes persistence and restoration of ecosystems containing resprouting species, such as California black oak, that are increasingly rare due to widespread fire exclusion in landscapes that historically experienced more frequent fire. We present a conceptual model based on our results and supported by a synthesis of postfire resprouting dynamics literature. Our results and conceptual model help illuminate long-term postfire vegetation responses and the potential ability of fire to catalyze formation of alternate vegetation community structures that may not be apparent in studies that evaluate postfire effects at shorter time-since-fire intervals or at coarser scales.

Keywords: alternative vegetation states, conifer encroachment, fire effects, fire exclusion, Quercus kelloggii, resprouting, top-kill, tree mortality

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Cocking, M.I.; Varner, J.M.; Knapp, E.E. 2014. Long-term effects of fire severity on oak–conifer dynamics in the southern Cascades. Ecological Applications, 24(1), pp. 94–107

 


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