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What drives European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) mortality after forest fires of varying severity?

By Janet Maringer, Davide Ascoli, Nicolas Küffer, Sebastian Schmidtlein and Marco Conedera


Predicting the timing and amount of tree mortality after a forest fire is of paramount importance for post-fire management decisions, such as salvage logging or reforestation. Such knowledge is particularly needed in mountainous regions where forest stands often serve as protection against natural hazards (e.g., snow avalanches, rockfalls, landslides). In this paper, we focus on the drivers and timing of mortality in fire-injured beech trees (Fagus sylvatica L.) in mountain regions. We studied beech forests in the southwestern European Alps, which burned between 1970 and 2012. The results show that beech trees, which lack fire-resistance traits, experience increased mortality within the first two decades post-fire with a timing and amount strongly related to the burn severity. Beech mortality is fast and ubiquitous in high severity sites, whereas small- (DBH <12 cm) and intermediate-diameter (DBH 12–36 cm) trees face a higher risk to die in moderate-severity sites. Large-diameter trees mostly survive, representing a crucial ecological legacy for beech regeneration. Mortality remains low and at a level similar to unburnt beech forests for low burn severity sites. Beech trees diameter, the presence of fungal infestation and elevation are the most significant drivers of mortality. The risk of beech to die increases toward higher elevation and is higher for small-diameter than for large-diameter trees. In case of secondary fungi infestation beech faces generally a higher risk to die. Interestingly, fungi that initiate post-fire tree mortality differ from fungi occurring after mechanical injury. From a management point of view, the insights about the controls of post-fire mortality provided by this study should help in planning post-fire silvicultural measures in montane beech forests

Topics: 580 Plants (Botany)
Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2018
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.foreco.2016.03.008
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