Post-fire fuel succession in a rare California, USA, closed-cone conifer

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Abstract

Background: Increasing frequency and size of wildfires over the past few decades have prompted concerns that populations of obligate seeding species may be vulnerable to repeat, short-interval fires that occur prior to these species reaching maturity. The susceptibility of populations to this risk is partially dependent on the amount and characteristics of fuel loading over time and their influence on fire behavior and effects. This study characterized fuel dynamics and modeled fire behavior across a time-since-fire chronosequence in stands of the rare, serotinous conifer, Baker cypress (Hesperocyparis bakeri [Jeps.] Bartel), ranging in age between 3 and 147 years post fire. Results: Litter and fine woody fuel loading (1- to 100-hour) were highest in the 10-year-old and 147-year-old stands, while coarse fuel loading (1000-hour) peaked in the 10-year-old stand and subsequently decreased with time since fire. Duff loading consistently increased with time since fire. Cone production had not occurred in the first 10 yr of stand development. Foliar moisture content in Baker cypress was inversely correlated with stand age, and older foliage had lower moisture content than younger foliage. Modeled surface fire behavior was highest in the 10-year-old and 107-year-old stands in accordance with higher litter, fine woody fuel, or shrub fuel accumulation. While foliar moisture content was higher in younger stands and influenced the critical fireline intensity, we did not observe changes in fire type. Conclusions: Fine-fuel loading in Baker cypress stands followed a U-shaped pattern over time (first decreasing, then stable, then increasing), consistent with findings in other forests with stand-replacing fire regimes. Our results indicated that early-successional stages of Baker cypress forests have sufficient fuels to allow for the spread of wildfire and 10-year-old stands could burn with substantive fire behavior prior to cone production. Whenever possible, we recommend suppressing wildfire in stands less than 20 yr old to avoid substantial decreases or local extirpation of these rare Baker cypress populations. Our results highlight the importance of knowing the cone production patterns, fuel dynamics, and corresponding fire behavior over the development of obligate-seeder species to assess the risk of population loss due to short-interval fires.

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McNamara, B. A., Kane, J. M., & Greene, D. F. (2019). Post-fire fuel succession in a rare California, USA, closed-cone conifer. Fire Ecology, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-019-0059-3

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