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Woody debris and tree regeneration dynamics following severe wildfires in Arizona ponderosa pine forests

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Severe forest fires worldwide leave behind large quantities of dead woody debris and regenerating trees that can affect future ecosystem trajectories. We studied a chronosequence of severe fires in Arizona, USA, spanning 1 to 18 years after burning to investigate postfire woody debris and regeneration dynamics. Snag densities varied over time, with predominantly recent snags in recent fires and broken or fallen snags in older fires. Coarse woody debris peaked at > 60 Mg/ha in the time period 6–12 years after fire, a value higher than previously reported in postfire fuel assessments in this region. However, debris loadings on fires older than 12 years were within the range of recommended management values (11.2–44.8 Mg/ha). Overstory and regeneration were most commonly dominated by sprouting deciduous species. Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa C. Lawson var. scopulorum Engelm.) overstory and regeneration were completely lacking in 50% and 57% of the sites, respectively, indicating that many sites were likely to experience extended periods as shrublands or grasslands rather than returning rapidly to pine forest. More time is needed to see whether these patterns will remain stable, but there are substantial obstacles to pine forest recovery: competition with sprouting species and (or) grasses, lack of seed sources, and the forecast of warmer, drier climatic conditions for coming decades.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Ecological Restoration Institute, Northern Arizona University, P.O. Box 15017, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA. 2: School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, P.O. Box 15018, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.

Publication date: March 15, 2012

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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