Background:Short-term post-fire field studies have shown that native shrub cover in chaparral ecosystems negatively affects introduced cover, which is influenced by burn severity, elevation, aspect, and climate. Using the southern California 2003 Old and Simi fires and the 2008 Sesnon Fire, we investigated the role of native shrubs in post-fire ecosystem responses across gradients of elevation, aspect, climate, burn severities, fire histories, and time. We collected field estimates of species cover in 2004 and 2015 at nested sampling sites. We used structural equation models with introduced and shrub cover as dependent variables.
Results: Shrub cover in 2004 was most influenced by the number of reburns, while shrub cover in 2015 was most influenced by the time between the two most recent fires. In 2004, introduced cover was most influenced by burn severity in 2003; similarly, in 2015, introduced cover was most influenced by burn severity in 2008. In both one and twelve years post fire, average precipitation increased the length of time between fires and decreased the number of times a site burned. This direct reduction in the number of times a site had burned due to average precipitation resulted in lower shrub cover one and twelve years post fire. Additionally, mean annual precipitation increased burn severity one year post fire, which resulted in lower introduced cover. However, this indirect relationship between precipitation and introduced cover through burn severity was no longer present twelve years post fire. Shrub cover increased with a longer average time between fires twelve years after fire. Shrub cover did not mediate any indirect relationships between burn severity or fire history metrics and introduced cover in either year, suggesting competitive exclusion of introduced species by shrubs.
Conclusion: Our research found that significant fire effects on shrub and introduced species are often mediated by precipitation. Precipitation trends are likely to change fire regimes and thus alter plant community dynamics.