Mixed-severity wildfire as a driver of vegetation change in an arizona madrean sky island system, usa

Helen M. Poulos, Michael R. Freiburger, Andrew M. Barton, Alan H. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Fire is a powerful natural disturbance influencing vegetation patterns across landscapes. Recent transitions from mixed-species forests to post-fire shrublands after severe wildfire is an increasingly prevalent phenomenon in pine-oak and conifer forest ecosystems in southwestern North America. However, we know little about how variation in fire severity influences other common forest types in the region. In this study, we evaluated fire-induced changes in woody plant community composition and forest structure in Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona in the United States that hosts a diverse set of vegetation types. Cluster analysis of the pre-fire vegetation data identified three dominant pre-fire vegetation types including juniper woodland, piñon forest, and pine-oak forest. All vegetation types experienced significant tree mortality across a wide range of size classes and species, from forests to shrublands. The magnitude of change within sample plots varied with fire severity, which was mediated by topography. Significant shifts in dominance away from coniferous obligate seeder trees to resprouting hardwoods and other shrubs occurred across all vegetation types in response to the fire. Regeneration from seed can be episodic, but projected increases in aridity and fire frequency may promote continued dominance by hardwoods and fire-and drought-resistant shrub communities, which is a regional forest management concern as wildfire size and severity continue to increase throughout the southwestern USA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number78
JournalFire
Volume4
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Building and Construction
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Safety Research
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

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