, Volume 71, Issue 1, pp 63-68

Comparative physiology of burned and unburned Rhus laurina after chaparral wildfire

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Laurel Sumac (Rhus laurina) is a dominant member of the coastal chaparral community of southern California that survives periodic burning by wildfires by resprouting from a lignotuber (root crown). We investigated the physiological basis for resprouting by comparing shoot elongation, leaf nitrogen content, tissue water status, leaf conductance to water vapor diffusion, and photosynthetic rates of post-fire R. laurina to those of adjacent unburned shrubs. Resprouts had higher rates of shoot elongation, leaf conductance, and photosynthesis than mature, unburned shrubs. Leaf nitrogen contents were elevated in burned shrubs even though their leaves developed interveinal chlorosis. A comparison of soil water potential to predawn water potential indicated that roots of R. laurina remain active below 2 m during the first summer drought after wildfire. Our results support the hypothesis that lignotubers not only contain dormant buds that develop into aerial shoots after wildfire but they also supply nutrient resources that enhance shoot elongation. Because R. laurina is relatively sensitive to drought, yet very successful in its rapid recovery after fire, maintaining an active root system after shoot removal may be the primary function of the massive lignotuber formed by this species.