Ecological - Second Order
Understanding tree physiological responses to fire is needed to accurately model post‐fire carbon processes and inform management decisions. Given trees can die immediately or at extended time periods after fire, we combined two experiments to assess the short‐ (one‐day) and long‐term (21‐months) fire effects on Pinus ponderosa sapling water transport. Native percentage loss of conductivity (nPLC), vulnerability to cavitation, and xylem anatomy were assessed in unburned and burned saplings at lethal and non‐lethal fire intensities. Fire did not cause any impact on nPLC and xylem cell wall structure in either experiment. However, surviving saplings evaluated 21‐months post‐fire were more vulnerable to cavitation. Our anatomical analysis in the long‐term experiment showed that new xylem growth adjacent to fire scars had irregular‐shaped tracheids and many parenchyma cells. Given conduit cell wall deformation was not observed in the long‐term experiment, we suggest that the irregularity of newly grown xylem cells nearby fire wounds may be responsible for decreasing resistance to embolism in burned plants. Our findings suggest that hydraulic failure is not the main short‐term physiological driver of mortality for Pinus ponderosa saplings. However, the decrease in embolism resistance in fire‐wounded saplings could contribute to sapling mortality in the years following fire.