Mixed-conifer understory response to climate change, nitrogen, and fire

Matthew Hurteau, Malcolm North

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


California's Sierra Nevada mountains are predicted to experience greater variation in annual precipitation according to climate change models, while nitrogen deposition from pollution continues to increase. These changes may significantly affect understory communities and fuels in forests where managers are attempting to restore historic conditions after a century of altered fire regimes. The objective of this research was to experimentally test the effects of increasing and decreasing snowpack depth, increasing nitrogen, and applying prescribed fire to mixed-conifer forest understories at two sites in the central and southern Sierra Nevada. Understory response to treatments significantly differed between sites with herb biomass increasing in shrub-dominated communities when snowpack was reduced. Fire was a more important factor in post-treatment species richness and cover than either snowpack addition or reduction. Nitrogen additions unexpectedly increased herbaceous species richness. These varied findings indicate that modeling future climatic influences on biodiversity may be more difficult than additive prediction based on increasing the ecosystem's two limiting growth resources. Increasing snowpack and nitrogen resulted in increased shrub biomass production at both sites and increased herb production at the southern site. This additional understory biomass has the potential to increase fuel connectivity in patchy Sierran mixed-conifer forests, increasing fire severity and size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1543-1552
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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