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Fire history of Araucaria–Nothofagus forests in Villarrica National Park, Chile

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Abstract Aim 

In this study we examine fire history (i.e. c. 500 yrbpto present) of AraucariaNothofagus forests in the Andes cordillera of Chile. This is the first fire history developed from tree rings for an AraucariaNothofagus forest landscape. Location 

The fire history was determined for the Quillelhue watershed on the north side of Lanin volcano in Villarrica National Park, Chile. The long-lived Araucaria araucana was commonly associated with Nothofagus pumilio and N. antarctica in more mesic and drier sites respectively. Methods 

Based on a combination of fire-scar proxy records and forest stand ages, we reconstructed fire frequency, severity, and the spatial extent of burned areas for an c. 4000 ha study area. We used a composite fire chronology for the purpose of determining centennial-scale changes in fire regimes and comparing the pre-settlement (pre-1883) and post-settlement fire regimes. In addition, we contrasted Araucaria and Nothofagus species as fire-scar recorders. Results 

In the study area, we dated a total of 144 fire-scarred trees, representing 46 fire years fromad1446 to the present. For the period fromad1696 to 2000, using fire dates from Araucaria and Nothofagus species, the composite mean fire interval varied from 7 years for all fires to 62 years for widespread events (i.e. years in which ≥ 25% of recorder trees were scarred). Sensitivity to fire was different for Araucaria and Nothofagus species. More than 98% of the fires recorded by Nothofagus species occurred during the 1900s. The lack of evidence for older fire dates (pre-1900) in Nothofagus species was due to their shorter longevity and greater susceptibility to being killed by more severe fires. Whereas the thin-barked N. pumilio and N. antarctica are often destroyed in catastrophic fire events, large and thick-barked Araucaria trees typically survive. The spatial extent of fires ranged from small patchy events to those that burned more than 40% of the entire landscape (c. > 1500 ha). Main conclusions 

Fire is the most important disturbance shaping the AraucariaNothofagus landscape in the Araucarian region. The forest landscape has been shaped by a mixed-severity fire regime that includes surface and crown fires. High-severity widespread events were relatively infrequent (e.g. 1827, 1909 and 1944) and primarily affected tall AraucariaN. pumilio forests and woodlands dominated by AraucariaN. antarctica. Although there is abundant evidence of the impact of Euro-Chilean settlers on the area, the relative influence of this settlement on the temporal pattern of fire could only be tentatively established due to the relatively small number of pre-1900 fire dates. An apparent increase in fire occurrence is evident in the fire record during Euro-Chilean settlement (post-1880s) compared with the Native American era, but it may also be the result of the destruction of evidence of older fires by more recent stand-devastating fires (e.g. 1909 and 1944). Overall, the severe and widespread fires that burned in AraucariaNothofagus forests of this region in 2002, previously interpreted as an ecological novelty, are within the range of the historic fire regimes that have shaped this forested landscape.
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Keywords: Araucaria; Chile; Nothofagus; bamboo; disturbance; fire history; fire scars; stand dynamics; tree ring analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2005

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