Influence of Fire and El Niño on Tree Recruitment Varies by Species in Sierran Mixed Conifer

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The influence of fire and climate events on age structure of different species was examined in old-growth mixed conifer in the southern Sierra Nevada. Within a 48-ha stem-mapped sample area, after a mechanical thinning, all stumps were examined for fire scars and 526 stumps were cut to ground level and aged. Before 1865, which was the last widespread fire event, the mean interval between scars for an individual tree was 17.3 years and the mean fire return interval for the period with the greatest number of recording trees was 11.4 years. A significantly greater than expected number of fires occurred in dry La Niña years, but these fires were not significantly larger in size than fires in other years. The response of mixed-conifer recruitment to climate and fire events varied by species. Before 1865, Jeffrey pine and sugar pine recruitment were correlated with wet El Niño years, but only sugar pine establishment was associated with fire. Red fir recruitment did not follow fire events but was associated with El Niño years before and after 1865. Most white fir and incense cedar (84%), including many large-diameter trees (>76 cm dbh), recruited after the last widespread fire in 1865. Although tree distribution is clustered in the southern Sierra Nevada, mixed-conifer groups are not age cohorts because species have different recruitment patterns relative to climate and fire events. In mixed conifer, top-down effects of fire and weather on recruitment are mediated by different species responses to these effects and within-stand differences in where species are located. FOR. SCI. 51(3):187–197.

Keywords: Abies concolor; Abies magnifica; Calocedrus decurrens; Palmer Drought Severity Index; Pinus jeffreyi; Pinus lambertiana; Sierra Nevada; Teakettle Experimental Forest; climate; environmental management; forest; forest management; forest resources; forestry; forestry research; forestry science; microclimate; natural resource management; natural resources; old-growth

Document Type: Regular Article

Affiliations: 1: USFS Sierra Nevada Research Center 2121 2nd Ave., Suite A-101 Davis CA 95616 Phone: (530) 754-7398, Email: 2: Department of Environmental Horticulture University of California Davis CA 95616, Email: 3: Department of Environmental Horticulture University of California Davis CA 95616 Current Address: 435 NW 8th St. Corvallis OR 97330 4: Department of Environmental Horticulture University of California Davis CA 95616, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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