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It takes a few to tango: changing climate and fire regimes can cause regeneration failure of two subalpine conifers

Author(s): Winslow D. Hansen, Kristin H. Braziunas, Werner Rammer, Rupert Seidl, Monica G. Turner
Year Published: 2018

Environmental change is accelerating in the 21st century, but how multiple drivers may interact to alter forest resilience remains uncertain. In forests affected by large high-severity disturbances, tree regeneration is a resilience linchpin that shapes successional trajectories for decades. We modeled stands of two widespread western U.S. conifers, Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca), and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia), in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, USA) to ask (1) What combinations of distance to seed source, fire return interval, and warming-drying conditions cause postfire tree-regeneration failure? (2) If postfire tree regeneration was successful, how does early tree density differ under future climate relative to historical climate? We conducted a stand-level (1 ha) factorial simulation experiment using the individual-based forest process model iLand to identify combinations of fire return interval (11–100 yr), distance to seed source (50–1,000 m), and climate (historical, mid-21st century, late-21st century) where trees failed to regenerate by 30-yr postfire. If regeneration was successful, we compared stand densities between climate periods. Simulated postfire regeneration were surprisingly resilient to changing climate and fire drivers. Douglas-fir regeneration failed more frequently (55%) than lodgepole pine (28% and 16% for nonserotinous and serotinous stands, respectively). Distance to seed source was an important driver of regeneration failure for Douglas-fir and non-serotinous lodgepole pine; regeneration never failed when stands were 50 m from a seed source and nearly always failed when stands were 1 km away. Regeneration of serotinous lodgepole pine only failed when fire return intervals were ≤20 yr and stands were far (1 km) from a seed source. Warming climate increased regeneration success for Douglas-fir but did not affect lodgepole pine. If regeneration was successful, postfire density varied with climate. Douglasfir and serotinous lodgepole pine regeneration density both increased under 21st-century climate but in response to different climate variables (growing season length vs. cold limitation). Results suggest that, given a warmer future with larger and more frequent fires, a greater number of stands that fail to regenerate after fires combined with increasing density in stands where regeneration is successful could produce a more coarse-grained forest landscape.

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Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation, Fire Regime, Climate and Fire Regime Change, Fire & Climate, Recovery after fire, Resilience
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18334
Record updated: Sep 4, 2019