, Volume 211, Issue 2, pp 337-349
Date: 02 Jun 2010

Old-field secondary succession in SE Spain: can fire divert it?

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In the Mediterranean Basin, most cultivated areas were abandoned in the last century and are now in various stages of old-field succession. The aim of this work was to analyse the successional trajectories of these ecosystems, and to assess possible deviations in these pathways due to fire occurrence at high or low recurrence levels. Old-fields abandoned either about 50 or about 100 years ago were selected in SE Spain. Within the 50-year-old abandoned fields, plots were established which had been burned by 1, 2 and 3 fires in the last 25 years. Cover values of vascular species were sampled and then analysed by means of multivariate analysis. Euclidean distances between resulting communities were used as an indicator of the possible deviation from the unburned successional pathway. Our results pointed to the possibility that different successional pathways may exist depending on fire occurrence and recurrence. In the absence of fire, the vegetation is dominated by pioneer species, mainly Pinus. With the passage of time this vegetation will become dominated by later successional tree species (Quercus). However, when early-successional communities are affected by fire, the succession can be diverted. A single fire is enough to change Pinus forests into alternative stable states dominated by Rosmarinus officinalis shrub communities, where the colonisation of species in later successional stages is arrested. This deviation increases in high fire recurrence regimes where the vegetation changes to dwarf shrubs and herbs.