, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 14-31
Date: 30 Jan 2006

Effects of Soil Burn Severity on Post-Fire Tree Recruitment in Boreal Forest

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Abstract

Fire, which is the dominant disturbance in the boreal forest, creates substantial heterogeneity in soil burn severity at patch and landscape scales. We present results from five field experiments in Yukon Territory, Canada, and Alaska, USA that document the effects of soil burn severity on the germination and establishment of four common boreal trees: Picea glauca, Picea mariana, Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia, and Populus tremuloides. Burn severity had strong positive effects on seed germination and net seedling establishment after 3 years. Growth of transplanted seedlings was also significantly higher on severely burned soils. Our data and a synthesis of the literature indicated a consistent, steep decline in conifer establishment on organic soils at depths greater than 2.5 cm. A meta-analysis of seedling responses found no difference in the magnitude of severity effects on germination versus net establishment. There were, however, significant differences in establishment but not germination responses among deciduous trees, spruce, and pine, suggesting that small-seeded species experience greater mortality on lightly burned, organic soils than large-seeded species. Together, our analyses indicate that variations in burn severity can influence multiple aspects of forest stand structure, by affecting the density and composition of tree seedlings that establish after fire. These effects are predicted to be most important in moderately-drained forest stands, where a high potential variability in soil burn severity is coupled with strong severity effects on tree recruitment.