Relationships between the flammability properties of a given plant and its chances of survival after a fire still remain unknown. We hypothesize that the bark flammability of a tree reduces the potential for tree survival following surface fires, and that if tree resistance to fire is provided by a thick insulating bark, the latter must be few flammable. We tests, on subalpine tree species, the relationship between the flammability of bark and its insulating ability, identifies the biological traits that determine bark flammability, and assesses their relative susceptibility to surface fires from their bark properties. The experimental set of burning properties was analyzed by Principal Component Analysis to assess the bark flammability. Bark insulating ability was expressed by the critical time to cambium kill computed from bark thickness. Log-linear regressions indicated that bark flammability varies with the bark thickness and the density of wood under bark and that the most flammable barks have poor insulating ability. Susceptibility to surface fires increases from gymnosperm to angiosperm subalpine trees. The co-dominant subalpine species Larix decidua (Mill.) and Pinus cembra (L.) exhibit large differences in both flammability and insulating ability of the bark that should partly explain their contrasted responses to fires in the past
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