, Volume 207, Issue 2, pp 281-295
Date: 26 Sep 2009

Vegetation dynamics and exotic plant invasion following high severity crown fire in a southern California conifer forest

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Abstract

Early post-fire vegetation dynamics following large, severe forest fires are largely unknown for the southern California mountains owing to historic fire suppression. Vegetation in 38 forest stands was surveyed (2004, 2005, and 2007) following the 2003 Cedar Fire in the Cuyamaca Mountains, Peninsular Ranges, San Diego County, California, USA. Each stand was sampled using four 10-m radius plots for the tree stratum, and 20 1-m2 quadrats for shrub and herb strata. Changes in canopy cover by species, origin (native and exotic) and life form were analyzed. 2007 data were subjected to clustering to examine the divergence in species composition of the stands with time. Shrub cover increased from 3 to 31%, and exotic herbaceous cover increased from 3 to 40%. Cover of native annuals had increased from 2004 (17%) to 2005 (33%), but then dropped to 15% in 2007. Forty percent of the stands were dominated by the shrub species Ceanothus palmeri, and associated with higher pre-fire conifer cover and fire severity. More than 50% of the stands were dominated by exotic annuals and associated with lower fire severity and less steep slopes. The remaining stands (<10%) were dominated by chaparral shrubs and occurred on lower elevation, steep west-facing slopes. Species traits predict their dynamics following disturbance, as environmental conditions change. Establishment and increasing abundance of species dependent on dispersal to reach a site, including exotic and native herbaceous species, occurred in years 2–4. Differences among stands in species composition 4 years post-fire were associated with topographic and fire severity gradients.