, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 351-369

Arizona pine (Pinus arizonica) stand dynamics: local and regional factors in a fire-prone madrean gallery forest of Southeast Arizona, USA

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Abstract

In southwestern North America, large-scale climate patterns appear to exert control on moisture availability, fire occurrence, and tree demography, raising the compelling possibility of regional synchronization of forest dynamics. Such regional signals may be obscured, however, by local, site-specific factors, such as disturbance history and land use. Contiguous sites with similar physical environments, lower and middle Rhyolite Canyon, Arizona, USA, shared nearly the same fire history from 1660-1801, but then diverged. For the next 50 years, fires continued to occur frequently in lower Rhyolite, but, probably as result of flood-induced debris deposition, largely ceased in middle Rhyolite. We related stand dynamics of Arizona pine (Pinus arizonica) to fire history and drought severity and compared the dynamics in the two sites before and after the divergence in fire frequency. Fires occurred during unusually dry years, and possibly following unusually moist years. Arizona pine exhibited three age structure peaks: two (1810–1830 and 1870–1900) shared by the two sites and one (1610–1640) only in middle Rhyolite. The latter two peaks occurred during periods of unusually low fire frequency, suggesting that fire-induced mortality shapes age structure. Evidence was mixed for the role of favorable moisture availability in age structure. As expected, moisture availability had a prominent positive effect on radial growth, but the effect of fire was largely neutral. The two sites differed only moderately in stand dynamics during the period of divergence, exhibiting subtle age structure contrasts and, in middle Rhyolite only, reduced growth during a 50-year fire hiatus followed by fire-induced release. These results suggest that, despite local differences in disturbance history, forest responses to regional fire and climate processes can persist.