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Disjunct and decoupled? The persistence of a fire-sensitive conifer soecies in a historically frequent-fire landscape

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Local and regional species extirpations may become more common as changing climate and disturbance regimesaccelerate species’ in situ range contractions. Identifying locations that function as both climate and disturbancerefugia is critical for biodiversity conservation. Here, we investigate the persistence of a disjunct, fire-sensitiveconifer population, yellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis), in the historically frequent-fire landscape of the BlueMountains in eastern Oregon, USA. We used tree rings to reconstruct multi-century fire histories, which werethen used to compare historical mean fire return intervals (MFRIs) inside of the cedar grove to the surroundingdry forest matrix, as well as to examine relationships between historical fire occurrence and reconstructed climate.We also examined trends in post-fire yellow-cedar mortality and regeneration between 2006, when thegrove burned in a wildfire, through 2017. Results indicated that fire was less frequent in the cedar grove(MFRI=35.8 years) than in the surrounding dry mixed-conifer forest (MFRI=14.4 years). Historical fire occurrencewas associated with hotter and drier conditions. Following the 2006 fire, cedar mortality was high(>90 %), but by 2017 post-fire regeneration was abundant (median=8125 seedlings ha−1). The easternOregon cedar grove appears to occupy a fire refugium historically decoupled from the frequent-fire regime of thebroader landscape. The topographic position of the grove suggests it is also a climate refugium. Managing forclimate and disturbance refugia has been identified as an important option for conservation in the context ofrapid global change, and this study provides evidence that locations where climate and disturbance refugiaoverlap may be disproportionately important for the maintenance of regional biodiversity. However, activemanagement may be required for populations to persist in some of these locations as anthropogenic change iscapable of overwhelming the underlying buffering capacity of refugia.

W.M. Downing; J.D. Johnston; M.A. Krawchuk; A.G. Merschel; J.H. Rausch

Downing WM, Johnston JD, Krawchuk MA, Merschel AG, Rausch JH. Disjunct and decoupled? The persistence of a fire-sensitive conifer soecies in a historically frequent-fire landscape. Journal for Nature Conservation. 2020 ;55.

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