Differential survival of chaparral seedlings during the first summer drought after wildfire
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- Frazer, J.M. & Davis, S.D. Oecologia (1988) 76: 215. doi:10.1007/BF00379955
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Big Pod Ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus) is an obligate seeder after fire; Laurel Sumac (Rhus laurina) is primarily a resprouter after fire. Both species commonly occur together in mixed stands and are dominant members of the coastal chaparral of southern California. We compared the mean survival of post-fire seedlings of each species during the first summer drought after fire and found C. megacarpus to have a mean survival of 54% while R. laurina had a mean survival of only 0.1%. Rooting dephs were similar between species but predawn water potentials and leaf temperatures were higher for R. laurina seedlings. Leaf temperatures for R. laurina reached a mean value of 46.8° C on hot, summer days, about 5° C higher than seedlings of C. megacarpus. By the end of the first growing season, 92% of all C. megacarpus seedlings had suffered herbivory compared to only 17% of all R. laurina seedlings. Herbivory did not appear to be the immediate cause of seedling mortality. Transect data indicated that full recovery of prefire species composition and density at our study site was likely but the mode of recovery was different for the species examined. R. laurina recovered primarily by sprouting, C. megacarpus totally by seedling establishment and a third species, Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise), by a combination of sprouting and seedling establishment. We attribute the higher mortality of R. laurina seedlings to the greater sensitivity of its tissue to water stress. It may be that differential survival of shrub seedlings and differential modes of reestablishment after fire play an important role in maintaining species diversity in the chaparral communities of coastal, southern California.