, Volume 155, Issue 2, pp 347-356
Date: 16 Nov 2007

The relationship between fire history and an exotic fungal disease in a deciduous forest

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Abstract

Exotic diseases have fundamentally altered the structure and function of forest ecosystems. Controlling exotic diseases across large expanses of forest has proven difficult, but fire may reduce the levels of diseases that are sensitive to environmental conditions. We examined Cornus florida populations in burned and unburned QuercusCarya stands to determine if burning prior to anthracnose infection has reduced the impacts of an exotic fungal disease, dogwood anthracnose, caused by Discula destructiva. We hypothesized that fire has altered stand structure and created open conditions less conducive to dogwood anthracnose. We compared C. florida density, C. florida health, and species composition and density among four sampling categories: unburned stands, and stands that had burned once, twice, and 3 times over a 20-year period (late 1960s to late 1980s). Double burn stands contained the greatest density of C. florida stems (770 stems ha−1) followed by triple burn stands (233 stems ha−1), single burn stands (225 stems ha−1) and unburned stands (70 stems ha−1; P < 0.01). We observed less crown dieback in small C. florida trees (<5 cm diameter at breast height) in burned stands than in unburned stands (P < 0.05). Indicator species analysis showed that burning favored species historically associated with QuercusCarya forests and excluded species associated with secondary succession following nearly a century of fire suppression. Our results suggest that fire may mitigate the decline of C. florida populations under attack by an exotic pathogen by altering forest structure and composition. Further, our results suggest that the burns we sampled have had an overall restorative effect on forest communities and were within the fire return interval of the historic fire regime. Consequently, prescribed fire may offer a management tool to reduce the impacts of fungal disease in forest ecosystems that developed under historic burning regimes.

Communicated by Alan Knapp.