There is limited information on how velvet leaf blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides
Michx.) responds to fires and existing small forest gaps associated with narrow linear disturbances. We measured the effects of narrow forest linear gaps from seismic lines used for oil and gas exploration versus adjacent (control) forests across a fire severity (% tree mortality) gradient on the presence, abundance (cover), vigor (height), and berry production of Vaccinium myrtilloides
in recently (five-year) burned jack pine (Pinus banksiana
Lamb.) forests near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Presence was greatest in forests that experienced low to moderately-high fire severities with declines at high fire severity. Abundance did not differ among seismic lines or adjacent forest, nor did it differ along a fire severity gradient. In contrast, vigor and berry production were greater on seismic lines compared to adjacent forests with fire severity positively affecting berry production, but not plant vigor. After controlling for changes in plant cover and vigor, berry production still increased with fire severity and within seismic lines compared with adjacent forests. Our findings suggest that narrow gaps from linear disturbances and fire severity interact to affect the fecundity (berry production) and growth (height) of Vaccinium myrtilloides
. This has important implications for assessing the ecological effects of fire on linear disturbances associated with energy exploration in the western boreal forest.
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