Tree mortality and structural change following mixed-severity fire in Pseudotsuga forests of Oregon’s western Cascades, USA

TitleTree mortality and structural change following mixed-severity fire in Pseudotsuga forests of Oregon’s western Cascades, USA
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsDunn, CJ
Secondary AuthorsBailey, JD
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Start Page107
Keywordsmixed-severity fire, technical reports and journal articles, tree mortality

Mixed-severity fires are increasingly recognized as common in Pseudotsuga forests of the Pacific Northwest and may be an important mechanism for developing or maintaining their structural diversity and complexity. Questions remain about how tree mortality varies and forest structure is altered across the disturbance gradient imposed by these fires. Therefore, we sampled live and dead trees at 45–1.0 ha plots, each with four 0.10 ha nested subplots, stratified across an unburned, low, moderate and high-severity fire gradient. Burned plots were primarily sampled 10 and 22 years post-fire, except three plots sampled four years post-fire. We estimated probability of mortality for fire-tolerant (Douglas-fir, incense-cedar, sugar pine) and fire-intolerant (western hemlock, western redcedar, true fir) trees from 5079 samples. The probability of mortality varied across all species and fire-severity classes, but the greatest difference was observed between fire-tolerant and fire-intolerant functional groups. Probability of mortality decreased with increasing DBH for all species except western hemlock that did not increase its fire resistance with increasing size. Some large, fire-tolerant trees survived high-severity fire but only in 31% of our plots. Snag fall and fragmentation was estimated for trees killed by the fire from 2746 sampled snags and logs 10 and 22 years post-fire. The proportion of snags fallen decreased with increasing DBH for all species, and was positively correlated with fire severity, except for Douglas-fir that had a higher proportion felled following low-severity fire. Snag fragmentation rates were positively correlated with DBH and fire severity for all species. Individual tree and snag estimates were scaled to plot-level structural attributes and contrasted by their coefficient of variation within- and among-plots from unburned to moderate-severity, as well as across all sampled conditions. Structural attributes varied more within- than among-plots, likely a result of patchy mortality that increased with fire severity. Although vertical and horizontal structural diversity increased at sub-hectare scales, the highest variability occurred for all structural attributes when compared across all sampled conditions. We conclude that the range of fire effects imposed by mixed-severity fire is important in creating structural diversity in Pseudotsuga forests of the Pacific Northwest and should be promoted through progressive fire management programs aimed at maintaining this forest’s fire regime now and in the future.