Pine forest expansion along a forest-meadow ecotone in northeastern California, USA

Steven P. Norman, Alan H. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Type conversions of vegetation are often triggered by changes in one or more limiting environmental factors. Such changes are particularly evident along montane forest-meadow ecotones, where historical changes in fire, grazing and climate have occurred. In this paper, we reconstruct spatial and temporal variation in climate, livestock grazing and fire for 11 meadow inclusions in the pine-dominated forest of northeastern California, USA. We then compare this environmental variation to temporal patterns of tree invasion by dating the establishment of 1420 trees, saplings and seedlings. Invasive trees included ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Laws.), Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Grev and Balf.), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. murrayana Loudon (Grev and Balf.)) and western juniper (Juniper occidentalis Hook.). Before the arrival of Euro-Americans in 1849, fires burned with a median interval of 11 years based on 1-3 ha composite records from multiple trees, and 14 years using records from individual trees. There was substantial variation in the date of the last recorded fire within and among meadows, but fire was rare after 1905. The onset of tree establishment varied among meadows, but followed the reduction and removal of fire. Livestock grazing also varied among meadows, and the highest establishment rates occurred when grazing was moderate. Mean tree establishment was 22.9 trees/ha/decade during the late 19th century when grazing was unregulated, 62.6 trees/ha/decade when sheep were present, but regulated, and 40.7 trees/hectare/decade after sheep were replaced with cattle. Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine established during a range of temperature and precipitation conditions, but establishment was greater when summer precipitation was below normal, annual temperatures were normal and springs were cool. Although changes in disturbance and climate were associated with tree establishment, the persistence of trees at the meadow edge is best explained by continued fire exclusion. With the long-term absence of fire the local effects of different disturbance histories are being lost.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-68
Number of pages18
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Aug 25 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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