Species mixture effects on flammability across plant phylogeny: the importance of litter particle size and the special role for non-Pinus Pinaceae

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Abstract

Fire affects and is affected by plants. Vegetation varies in flammability, that is, its general ability to burn, at different levels of ecological organization. To scale from individual plant traits to community flammability states, understanding trait effects on species flammability variation and their interaction is important. Plant traits are the cumulative result of evolution and they show, to differing extents, phylogenetic conservatism. We asked whether phylogenetic distance between species predicts species mixture effects on litterbed flammability. We conducted controlled laboratory burns for 34 phylogenetically wide-ranging species and 34 random two-species mixtures from them. Generally, phylogenetic distance did not predict species mixture effects on flammability. Across the plant phylogeny, most species were flammable except those in the non-Pinus Pinaceae, which shed small needles producing dense, poorly ventilated litterbeds above the packing threshold and therefore nonflammable. Consistently, either positive or negative dominance effects on flammability of certain flammable or those non-flammable species were found in mixtures involving the non-Pinus Pinaceae. We demonstrate litter particle size is key to explaining species nonadditivity in fuelbed flammability. The potential of certain species to influence fire disproportionately to their abundance might increase the positive feedback effects of plant flammability on community flammability state if flammable species are favored by fire.

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Zhao, W., Cornwell, W. K., van Pomeren, M., van Logtestijn, R. S. P., & Cornelissen, J. H. C. (2016). Species mixture effects on flammability across plant phylogeny: the importance of litter particle size and the special role for non-Pinus Pinaceae. Ecology and Evolution, 6(22), 8223–8234. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.2451

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