Burning the legacy? Influence of wildfire reburn on dead wood dynamics in a temperate conifer forest

TitleBurning the legacy? Influence of wildfire reburn on dead wood dynamics in a temperate conifer forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsDonato, DC
Secondary AuthorsFontaine, JB
Tertiary AuthorsCampbell, JL
Start Pagee01341
Keywordsbiomass, black carbon, char, coarse woody debris, combustion, decay, decomposition, disturbance interactions, early-seral, fire, mixed-severity fire, technical reports and journal articles

Dynamics of dead wood, a key component of forest structure, are not well described for mixed- severity fi re regimes with widely varying fi re intervals. A prominent form of such variation is when two stand- replacing fi res occur in rapid succession, commonly termed an early- seral “reburn.” These events are thought to strongly infl uence dead wood abundance in a regenerating forest, but this hypothesis has scarcely been tested. We measured dead wood following two overlapping wildfi res in coniferdominated forests of the Klamath Mountains, Oregon (USA), to assess whether reburning (15- yr interval, with >90% vegetation mortality) resulted in lower dead wood abundance and altered character relative to once- burned stands, and how any diff erences may project through succession. Total dead wood mass (standing + down) following the reburn (169 ± 83 Mg/ha [95%CI]) was 45% lower than after a single fire (309 ± 87 Mg/ha). Lower levels in reburn stands were due to, in roughly equal parts, additional combustion and greater time for decay. Although a single fi re in mature forest both consumed and created dead wood (by killing large live trees), a reburn only consumed dead wood (few large live trees to kill). Charred biomass (black carbon generation) was higher in reburned stands by a factor of 2 for logs and 8 for snags. Projecting these stands forward (notwithstanding future disturbances) suggests: (1) the near- halving of dead- wood mass in reburn stands will persist for ~50 yr until the recruitment of new material begins, and (2) the reburn signature on dead wood abundance will remain apparent for over a century. These findings demonstrate how a single stochastic variation in disturbance interval can impart lasting infl uence on dead- wood succession, reinforcing the notion that many temperate forests exist in a state of dead- wood disequilibrium governed by site- specifi c disturbance history. Accounting for such variation in disturbance impacts is crucial to better understanding forests with complex mixed- severity disturbance regimes and with increasing stochasticity under climatic change.