Fire Reinforces Structure of Pondcypress (Taxodium distichum var. imbricarium) Domes in a Wetland Landscape
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- Watts, A.C., Kobziar, L.N. & Snyder, J.R. Wetlands (2012) 32: 439. doi:10.1007/s13157-012-0277-9
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Fire periodically affects wetland forests, particularly in landscapes with extensive fire-prone uplands. Rare occurrence and difficulty of access have limited efforts to understand impacts of wildfires fires in wetlands. Following a 2009 wildfire, we measured tree mortality and structural changes in wetland forest patches. Centers of these circular landscape features experienced lower fire severity, although no continuous patch-size or edge effect was evident. Initial survival of the dominant tree, pondcypress (Taxodium distichum var. imbricarium), was high (>99%), but within one year of the fire approximately 23% of trees died. Delayed mortality was correlated with fire severity, but unrelated to other hypothesized factors such as patch size or edge distance. Tree diameter and soil elevation were important predictors of mortality, with smaller trees and those in areas with lower elevation more likely to die following severe fire. Depressional cypress forests typically exhibit increasing tree size towards their interiors, and differential mortality patterns were related to edge distance. These patterns result in the exaggeration of a dome-shaped profile. Our observations quantify roles of fire and hydrology in determining cypress mortality in these swamps, and imply the existence of feedbacks that maintain the characteristic shape of cypress domes.