Post-fire tree stress and growth following smoldering duff fires

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Varner, JM, Putz, FE, O'Brien, JJ, Hiers, JK, Mitchell, RJ & Gordon, DR 2009, 'Post-fire tree stress and growth following smoldering duff fires', Forest Ecology and Management, vol. 258, no. 11, pp. 2467-2474.

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Understanding the proximate causes of post-fire conifer mortality due to smoldering duff fires is essential to the restoration and management of coniferous forests throughout North America. To better understand duff fire-caused mortality, we investigated tree stress and radial growth following experimental fires in a long-unburned forest on deep sands in northern Florida, USA. We burned basal fuels surrounding 80 mature Pinus palustris Mill. in a randomized experiment comparing the effects of basal burning treatments on stem vascular meristems; surficial roots; root and stem combinations; and a non-smoldering control. We examined the effects of duration of lethal temperatures (>60 °C) on subsequent pine radial growth and root non-structural carbohydrates (starch and sugar). Duff and mineral soil temperatures in the experimental fires consistently exceeded 60 °C for over an hour following ignition, with lethal temperatures of shorter duration recorded 20 cm below the mineral soil surface. Duff heating was best explained by day-of-burn Oe horizon moisture (P = 0.01), although little variation was explained (R2 = 0.24). Post-fire changes in latewood radial increment in the year following fires was related to duration of temperatures >60 °C 10 cm deep in the mineral soil (P = 0.07), but explained little variability in post-fire growth (R2 = 0.17). In contrast, changes in non-structural carbohydrate content in coarse roots (2–5 mm diameter) 120 days following burning were more strongly correlated with the duration of lethal heating 5 cm below the mineral soil surface (P = 0.02;R2 = 0.53). Results from this study implicate the role of mineral soil heating in the post-fire decline of mature longleaf pine following restoration fires in sandy soils.

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