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Forests 2017, 8(7), 221; doi:10.3390/f8070221

Fire Severity and Regeneration Strategy Influence Shrub Patch Size and Structure Following Disturbance

1
School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
2
School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Emanuele Lingua
Received: 19 April 2017 / Revised: 13 June 2017 / Accepted: 19 June 2017 / Published: 22 June 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Post-Disturbance Forest Management and Regeneration Dynamics)
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Abstract

Climate change is increasing the frequency and extent of high-severity disturbance, with potential to alter vegetation community composition and structure in environments sensitive to tipping points between alternative states. Shrub species display a range of characteristics that promote resistance and resilience to disturbance, and which yield differential post-disturbance outcomes. We investigated differences in shrub patch size and stem density in response to variations in fire severity, vegetation community, and post-disturbance reproductive strategies in Sky Island forested ecosystems in the southwestern United States. Patterns in shrub structure reflect the effects of fire severity as well as differences among species with alternate post-fire reproductive strategies. Increased fire severity correlates with larger patch sizes and greater stem densities; these patterns are observed across multiple fire events, indicating that disturbance legacies can persist for decades. High severity fire produces the largest shrub patches, and variance in shrub patch size increases with severity. High severity fire is likely to promote expansion of shrub species on the landscape, with implications for future community structure. Resprouting species have the greatest variability in patch structure, while seeding species show a strong response to disturbance: resprouting species dominate at low disturbance severities, and obligate seeders dominate high severity areas. Differential post-fire reproductive strategies are likely to generate distinct patterns of vegetation distribution following disturbance, with implications for community composition at various scales. Shrub species demonstrate flexible responses to wildfire disturbance severity that are reflected in shrub patch dynamics at small and intermediate scales. View Full-Text
Keywords: ecological disturbance; Madrean archipelago; North American Monsoon; plant structure; plasticity; reproductive strategy; shrubfield; sprouting; tipping points; wildfire ecological disturbance; Madrean archipelago; North American Monsoon; plant structure; plasticity; reproductive strategy; shrubfield; sprouting; tipping points; wildfire
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Minor, J.; Falk, D.A.; Barron-Gafford, G.A. Fire Severity and Regeneration Strategy Influence Shrub Patch Size and Structure Following Disturbance. Forests 2017, 8, 221.

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