Skip to main content

Prescribed fire after thinning increased resistance of sub-Mediterranean pine forests to drought events and wildfires

Year of Publication
Publication Type

Vegetation structure affects the vulnerability of a forest to drought events and wildfires. Management decisions, such as thinning intensity and type of understory treatment, influence competition for water resources and amount of fuel available. While heavy thinning effectively reduces tree water stress and intensity of a crown fire, the duration of these benefits may be limited by a fast growth response of the understory. Our aim was to study the effect of forest structure on pine forests vulnerability to extreme drought events and on the potential wildfire behaviour after management, with a special focus on the role of the understory. In three sub-Mediterranean sites of NE Spain dominated by Pinus nigra, two intensities of thinning (light: aiming at 70–75% canopy cover; and heavy: aiming at 50–60% canopy cover) followed by two understory treatments (mechanical only and mechanical plus prescribed burning) were applied, resulting in four differently managed stands plus an untreated control per site. Four to five years after management, we measured forest structure (overstory in one 314 m2circular plot and understory in 20 quadrats of 1 m2 per treatment unit) and fuel load (in two 10 m transects per treatment unit) and simulated water balance and fire behaviour under extreme weather conditions. Understory contribution was assessed comparing the real structure with a virtual forest stand where understory vegetation equalled the one of the untreated control. Our results suggest that the resulting mid-term structure following treatments effectively reduced water stress and fire behaviour compared with untreated control, and that the most effective treatments were the ones where prescribed burning was applied after light or heavy thinning. While understory clearing contributes to increase the resistance to both disturbances, an additive effect of burning the debris reduced the vulnerability to drought and wildfires after treatments. Our study highlights the importance of managing the understory to further increase forest resistance to both disturbances.

L. Vilà-Vilardell; M. De Cáceres; M. Piqué; P. Casals

Vilà-Vilardell L, De Cáceres M, Piqué M, Casals P. Prescribed fire after thinning increased resistance of sub-Mediterranean pine forests to drought events and wildfires. Forest Ecology and Management. 2023 ;527.

Publication Topics