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Aridity and competition drive fire resistance trait covariation in mountain trees

Author(s): Thibaut Fréjaville, Albert Vilà‐Cabrera, Thomas Curt, Christopher Carcaillet
Year Published: None.

Fire resistance traits drive tree species composition in surface‐fire ecosystems, but how they covary at different scales of variation and with the environment is not well documented. We assessed the covariation of bark thickness (BT), tree height, and crown base‐to‐height ratio across Alpine forests, after accounting for the effects of tree diameter and competition for light on individual trait variation. Traits consistently correlated across individuals and communities, although the variance of BT mainly occurred among species, whereas crown elevation traits varied mainly within species. Aridity, temperature, and competition contributed to explain the variation of fire resistance traits among and within species, driving a trade‐off between fire resistance and the ability to compete for light. Thick‐barked species (fire‐tolerant) that self‐prune their lower branches (flame‐avoiders) dominated the most fire‐prone and flammable communities in sub‐Mediterranean southern Alps, whereas thin‐barked tree species that grow tall (competition for light) dominated the least fire‐prone communities in the northern Alps. Our findings suggest a long‐term interaction between mountain tree species and fire regime. Higher allocation to trunk elongation occurs in moist and shade environments, while higher allocation to thicken the bark and distancing the crown base from surface fuels occurs in open‐canopy, dry forests where fire spreads with higher intensity.

Citation: Fréjaville T, Vilà‐Cabrera A, Curt T, and Carcaillet C. 2018. Aridity and competition drive fire resistance trait covariation in mountain trees. Ecosphere (12): e02493. 10.1002/ecs2.2493
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Fuels, Fuel Descriptions
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18745
Record updated: Dec 12, 2018