Latent resilience in ponderosa pine forest: Effects of resumed frequent fire

Andrew J. Larson, R. Travis Belote, C. Alina Cansler, Sean A. Parks, Matthew S. Dietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Ecological systems often exhibit resilient states that are maintained through negative feedbacks. In ponderosa pine forests, fire historically represented the negative feedback mechanism that maintained ecosystem resilience; fire exclusion reduced that resilience, predisposing the transition to an alternative ecosystem state upon reintroduction of fire. We evaluated the effects of reintroduced frequent wildfire in unlogged, fire-excluded, ponderosa pine forest in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana, USA. Initial reintroduction of fire in 2003 reduced tree density and consumed surface fuels, but also stimulated establishment of a dense cohort of lodgepole pine, maintaining a trajectory toward an alternative state. Resumption of a frequent fire regime by a second fire in 2011 restored a lowdensity forest dominated by large-diameter ponderosa pine by eliminating many regenerating lodgepole pines and by continuing to remove surface fuels and small-diameter lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir that established during the fire suppression era. Our data demonstrate that some unlogged, fire-excluded, ponderosa pine forests possess latent resilience to reintroduced fire. A passive model of simply allowing lightning-ignited fires to burn appears to be a viable approach to restoration of such forests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1243-1249
Number of pages7
JournalEcological Applications
Volume23
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2013

Keywords

  • Fire effects
  • Fire exclusion
  • Mixed-severity fire
  • Surface fire
  • Wilderness management

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