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Influence of Repeated Prescribed Fire on Tree Growth and Mortality in Pinus resinosa Forests, Northern Minnesota

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Prescribed fire is widely used for ecological restoration and fuel reduction in fire-dependent ecosystems, most of which are also prone to drought. Despite the importance of drought in fire-adapted forests, little is known about the cumulative effects of repeated prescribed burning on tree growth and related response to drought. Using dendrochronological data in red pine (Pinus resinosa Ait.)-dominated forests in northern Minnesota, USA, we examined growth responses before and after understory prescribed fires between 1960 and 1970 to assess whether repeated burning influences growth responses of overstory trees and vulnerability of overstory tree growth to drought. We found no difference in tree-level growth vulnerability to drought, expressed as growth resistance, resilience, and recovery, between areas receiving prescribed fire treatments and untreated forests. Annual mortality rates during the period of active burning were also low (less than 2%) in all treatments. These findings indicate that prescribed fire can be effectively integrated into management plans and climate change adaptation strategies for red pine forest ecosystems without significant short- or long-term negative consequences for growth or mortality rates of overstory trees.
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Keywords: controlled burns; dendrochronology; drought vulnerability; underburning

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 17, 2017

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