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Effects of fire on native columnar and globular cacti of Puerto Rico: a case study of El Faro, Cabo Rojo

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Abstract

Background: Many Puerto Rican ecosystems evolved without a regular fire regime. As such, many native plants lack adaptations necessary to survive even low-intensity fires. Human-caused fires are increasing in frequency, in part promoted by the presence of invasive grasses. During the afternoon of 19 February 2014, a wildfire burned a large portion of the dry forest in El Faro Natural Reserve, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Using a previously monitored population, we documented the mortality and morphological damage on three columnar and semi-epiphytic cactus species (Pilosocereus royenii [L.] Byles & Rowley, Harrisia portoricensis Britton, and Leptocereus quadricostatus Britton) and one globular species (Melocactus intortus [Mill.] Urb.) in relation to canopy cover and cactus growth strategy. Results: Our results suggest that M. intortus and H. portoricensis were more susceptible to fire damage. Cacti growing in areas dominated by grasses and shrubs were significantly more likely to burn than those growing under a closed tree canopy. Apart from L. quadricostatus, cacti that survived at least one year after the fire had lost spines, developed scarring tissue in some or all ribs, and few were able to regrow. Conclusions: Because extensive tissue damage and environmental alterations were observed during the post-fire survey, which occurred between 14 to 19 months after the fire, we argue there will be significant delayed mortality and that the mortality estimates presented here are conservative.

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Carrera-Martínez, R., Ruiz-Arocho, J., Aponte-Díaz, L., Jenkins, D. A., & O’Brien, J. J. (2020). Effects of fire on native columnar and globular cacti of Puerto Rico: a case study of El Faro, Cabo Rojo. Fire Ecology, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-020-00075-z

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