Effects of an Intense Wildfire in a Mexican Oak-Pine Forest

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An oak-pine forest burned by intense wildfire in April, 1996, and a companion unburned area were sampled 1 month and 1 yr postfire in La Michilía Biosphere Reserve, Durango, Mexico. Up to 90% of the trees were killed or top-killed in the burned area, but larger trees tended to survive, so basal area was only reduced by 66%. Top-killing was relatively higher among fire-susceptible oaks and lower among fire-resistant pines. However, oaks were strong resprouters both in the canopy and at the base of top-killed trees. Damage codes based on crown scorch and bole char were highly accurate when predicting that a tree would die but substantially overestimated survivors. Most tree regeneration was top-killed in the fire, but oak sprout density was 700% that of the unburned area by 1 yr postfire. Manzanita shrubs also resprouted vigorously. Herbaceous production and cover were lower after the first postfire growing season in the burned area than the unburned area. Woody fuels and forest floor depth were also reduced. Although short-term fire effects indicate that the forest ecosystem has moved closer toward a savanna condition, remnant seed trees and sprouting trees are expected to maintain forest cover. Future herbaceous production is likely to increase in response to overstory mortality. Quantification of fire effects is helpful for supporting short-term management decisions since oak-pine forests cover millions of hectares in northern Mexico. As a long-term management strategy, however, we suggest that restoring the frequent, low-intensity fire regime may be desirable for ecological and economic reasons. For. Sci. 46(1):52-61.

Keywords: Juniper; Sierra Madre Occidental; ecological restoration; fuel; herbaceous production; madrone; mortality

Document Type: Journal Article

Publication date: February 1, 2000

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