Information on wildfire impacts and ecosystem responses is relatively sparse in the Great Basin of North America, where subalpine ecosystems are generally dominated by five-needle pines. We analyzed existing vegetation, with an emphasis on regeneration following the year 2000 Phillips Ranch Fire, at a sky-island site in the Snake Range of eastern Nevada. Our main objective was to compare bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva
; PILO) post-fire establishment and survival to that of the co-occurring dominant conifers limber pine (Pinus flexilis
; PIFL) and Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii
; PIEN) in connection with site characteristics. Field data were collected in 40 circular 0.1 ha plots (17.8 m radius) randomly located using GIS so that half of them were inside (“burned”) and half were outside (“unburned”) the 2000 fire boundary. While evidence of previous burns was also found, we focused on impacts from the Phillips Ranch Fire. Mean total basal area, including live and dead stems, was not significantly different between plots inside the burn and plots outside the fire perimeter, but the live basal area was significantly less in the former than in the latter. Wildfire impacts did not limit regeneration, and indeed bristlecone seedlings and saplings were more abundant in plots inside the 2000 fire perimeter than in those outside of it. PILO regeneration, especially saplings, was more abundant than PIFL and PCEN combined, indicating that PILO can competitively regenerate under modern climatic conditions. Surviving PILO regeneration in burned plots was also taller than that of PIFL. By contrast, PCEN was nearly absent in the plots that had been impacted by fire. Additional research should explicitly address how climatic changes and disturbance processes may interact in shaping future vegetation dynamics.
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