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Burning the legacy? Influence of wildfire reburn on dead wood dynamics in a temperate conifer forest

Author(s): Daniel C. Donato, Joseph B. Fontaine, John L. Campbell
Year Published: 2016
Description: Dynamics of dead wood, a key component of forest structure, are not well described for mixed-severity fire regimes with widely varying fire intervals. A prominent form of such variation is when two stand-replacing fires occur in rapid succession, commonly termed an early-seral “reburn.” These events are thought to strongly influence dead wood abundance in a regenerating forest, but this hypothesis has scarcely been tested. We measured dead wood following two overlapping wildfires in conifer-dominated forests of the Klamath Mountains, Oregon (USA), to assess whether reburning (15-yr interval, with >90% vegetation mortality) resulted in lower dead wood abundance and altered character relative to once-burned stands, and how any differences may project through succession. Total dead wood mass (standing + down) following the reburn (169 ± 83 Mg/ha [95%CI]) was 45% lower than after a single fire (309 ± 87 Mg/ha). Lower levels in reburn stands were due to, in roughly equal parts, additional combustion and greater time for decay. Although a single fire in mature forest both consumed and created dead wood (by killing large live trees), a reburn only consumed dead wood (few large live trees to kill). Charred biomass (black carbon generation) was higher in reburned stands by a factor of 2 for logs and 8 for snags. Projecting these stands forward (notwithstanding future disturbances) suggests: (1) the near-halving of dead-wood mass in reburn stands will persist for ~50 yr until the recruitment of new material begins, and (2) the reburn signature on dead wood abundance will remain apparent for over a century. These findings demonstrate how a single stochastic variation in disturbance interval can impart lasting influence on dead-wood succession, reinforcing the notion that many temperate forests exist in a state of dead-wood disequilibrium governed by site-specific disturbance history. Accounting for such variation in disturbance impacts is crucial to better understanding forests with complex mixed-severity disturbance regimes and with increasing stochasticity under climatic change.
Citation: Donato, Daniel C.; Fontaine, Joseph B.; Campbell, John L. 2016. Burning the legacy? Influence of wildfire reburn on dead wood dynamics in a temperate conifer forest. Ecosphere 7(5).
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Fuels Assessment & Monitoring
Ecosystem(s): Montane wet mixed-conifer forest
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 14473
FRAMES RCS number: 22490
Record updated: Jun 23, 2016