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An experimental assessment of the impact of drought and fire on western larch injury, mortality and recovery

Author(s): Aaron M. Sparks, Alan F. Talhelm, Raquel Partelli Feltrin, Alistair M. S. Smith, Daniel M. Johnson, Crystal A. Kolden, Luigi Boschetti
Year Published: 2018

Climate change is increasing drought and fire activity in many fire-prone regions including the western USA and circumpolar boreal forest. These changes highlight the need for improved understanding of how multiple disturbances impact trees in these regions. Recent studies linking fire behaviour to plant ecophysiology have improved understanding of how fire affects tree function and mortality but have not investigated interactions between drought stress and fire. In this study, Larix occidentalis saplings were subjected to different levels of water stress followed by low-intensity surface fires in a controlled laboratory setting. Post-fire mortality, recovery and growth were monitored for up to 1 year post fire. Generally, increased pre-fire water stress resulted in decreased post-fire stem diameter (up to 5% lower) and height (up to 19% lower) growth. However, severely water-stressed saplings whose foliage had senesced before the fires had lower 1-year mortality (14%) and significantly greater post-fire bud densities than moderately stressed saplings that did not senesce (86% mortality). The mortality patterns suggest that water-stressed western larch saplings exposed to low-intensity wildfires, or prescribed fires conducted as part of forest management activities, may exhibit lower mortality rates if stress-induced foliar senescence has occurred.

Citation: Sparks AM, Talhelm AF, Feltrin RP, Smith AMS , Johnson DM, Kolden CA, Boschetti L. 2018. An experimental assessment of the impact of drought and fire on western larch injury, mortality and recovery. International Journal of Wildland Fire 27(7): 490-497. https://doi.org/10.1071/WF18044
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18020
Record updated: Jul 30, 2018