, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 627–636 | Cite as

Tree-ring growth and stable isotopes (13C and 15N) detect effects of wildfires on tree physiological processes in Pinus sylvestris L.

  • Rachele Beghin
  • Paolo Cherubini
  • Giovanna Battipaglia
  • Rolf Siegwolf
  • Matthias Saurer
  • Giovanni Bovio
Original Paper


Forest fires may alter the physiological and growth processes of trees by causing stress in trees and modifying the availability of soil nutrient. We investigated if, after a high-severity fire, changes in tree-ring growth can be observed, as well as changes in the nitrogen and carbon isotope composition of tree rings of surviving trees. Two wildfires that occurred in Pinus sylvestris L. stands in Northern Italy, one at the beginning and one at the end of the vegetative season, were chosen as the focus of this study. After the fires, the surviving trees showed growth suppression with very narrow tree rings or locally absent rings. The carbon isotope ratio was more negative in tree rings formed in the 5 years following fire, indicating better water supply in a situation of less competition. The nitrogen isotope ratio followed opposite trends in the two wildfire stands. In trees cored in the stand where the fire happened at the beginning of the vegetative season, there was no change in the nitrogen isotope ratio, whereas in samples collected in the other fire site, higher nitrogen isotope ratios were observed in the tree rings formed after the fire, reflecting changes in the soil nitrogen supply. Modifications in the growth and isotope composition of the fire-stressed trees disappeared from 6 to 10 years after the fire. By studying trees before and after fire, we were able to show that fire affects not only the growth of surviving trees, but also their physiological processes.


Wildfires Tree rings δ13δ15Pinus sylvestris L. 


  1. Anderson WT, Bernasconi SM, McKenzie JA (1998) Oxygen and carbon isotopic record of climatic variability in tree ring cellulose (Picea abies): an example from central Switzerland (1913–1995). J Geophys Res 103:625–636. doi:10.1029/1998JD200040 Google Scholar
  2. Arno SF, Sneck KM (1977) A method for determining fire history in coniferous forests of the Mountain West. USDA For Serv Gen Tech Rep INT-42, Ogden, Utah, 28 pGoogle Scholar
  3. Auer I, Böhm R, Jurkovic A, Lipa W et al (2007) HISTALP—historical instrument climatological surface time series of the Greater Alpine Region. Int J Climatol 27:17–46. doi:10.1002/joc.1377 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Battipaglia G, Cherubini P, Saurer M, Siegwolf RTW, Strumia S, Cotrufo F (2007) Volcanic explosive eruptios of the Vesuvio decrease tree-ring growth but not photosynthetic rates in the surrounding forests. Global Change Biol 13:1122–1137. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2007.01350.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bergeron Y (1991) The influence of island and mainland lakeshore landscapes on boreal forest fire regimes. Ecology 72:1980–1992CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bigio E, Gärtner H, Conedera M (2010) Fire-related features of wood anatomy in a sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) coppice in southern Switzerland. Trees. doi:10.1007/s00468-010-0434-9
  7. Bond WJ, van Wilgen BW (1996) Fire and plants. Chapman & Hall, London, p 253Google Scholar
  8. Brown JK, Smith JK (2000) Wildland fire in ecosystems: effects of fire on flora. In: Gen Tech Rep RMRS-GTR-42, vol. 2. USDA Forest Services, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ogden, 257 pGoogle Scholar
  9. Certini G (2005) Effects of fire on properties of forest soils: a review. Oecologia 143:1–10. doi:10.1007/s00442-004-1788-8 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cherubini P, Gartner BL, Tognetti R, Braker OU (2003) Identification, measurement and interpretation of tree rings in woody species from mediterranean climates. Biol Rev 78:119–148. doi:10.1017/S1464793102006000 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cook GD (2001) Effects of frequent fires and grazing on stable nitrogen isotope ratios of vegetation in northern Australia. Austral Ecol 26:630–636. doi:10.1046/j.1442-9993.2001.01150.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Covington WW, Sackett SS (1992) Soil mineral nitrogen changes following prescribed burning in ponderosa pine. For Ecol Manag 54:175–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dawson TE, Siegwolf RTW (2007) Stable isotopes as indicators of ecological change. Elsevier, Amsterdam, p 417Google Scholar
  14. Dawson TE, Mambelli S, Plamboeck AH, Templer PH, Tu KP (2002) Stable isotopes in plant ecology. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 33:507–559. doi:10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.33.020602.095451 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DeBano LF, Neary DG, Ffolliott PF (1998) Fire’s effect on ecosystems. Wiley, New York, p 333Google Scholar
  16. Dieterich JH (1980) Chimney Spring Forest fire history. USDA Forest Service Research paper RM-220. 8 pGoogle Scholar
  17. Duran J, Rodriguez A, Fernandez-Palacios J-M, Gallardo A (2008) Changes in soil N and P availability in a Pinus canariensis fire chronosequence. For Ecol Manage 256:384–387. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2008.04.033 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ehleringer JR, Cooper TA (1988) Correlations between carbon isotope ratio and microhabitat in desert plants. Oecologia 76:562–566. doi:10.1007/BF00397870 Google Scholar
  19. Elhani S, Guehl JM, Nys C, Picard JF, Dupouey JL (2005) Impact of fertilization on tree-ring d15 N and d13C in beech stands: a retrospective analysis. Tree Physiol 25:1437–1446PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Evans RD (2001) Physiological mechanisms influencing plant nitrogen isotope composition. Trends Plant Sci 6:121–126PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Francey RJ, Farquhar GD (1982) An explanation of 13C/12C variations in tree rings. Nature 297:28–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Francey RJ, Allison CE, Etheridge DM, Trudinger CM, Enting IG, Leuenberger M, Langenfelds RL, Michel E, Steele P (1999) A 1000 year high precision record of d13C in atmospheric CO2. Tellus B51:170–193Google Scholar
  23. Fritts HC (1976) Tree rings and climate. Academic Press, London, p 567Google Scholar
  24. Fritts HC, Swetnam TW (1986) Dendroecology: a tool for evaluating variations in past and present forest environments. Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, 61 pGoogle Scholar
  25. Giovannini G, Lucchesi S (1997) Modifications induced in soil physico-chemical parameters by experimental fires at different intensities. Soil Sci 162:479–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grissino-Mayer HD (2001) Evaluating cross dating accuracy: a manual and tutorial for the computer program COFECHA. Tree-Ring Res 57:205–221Google Scholar
  27. Grissino-Mayer HD, Romme WH, Floyd ML, Hanna DD (2004) Climatic and human influences on fire regimes of the souther San Juan Mountains, Colorado, USA. Ecology 85:1708–1724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grogan P, Bruns TD, Chapin FS III (2000) Fire effects on ecosystem nitrogen cycling in a Californian bishop pine forest. Oecologia 122:537–544. doi:10.1007/s004420050977 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Helmisaari HS, Siltala T (1989) Variation in nutrient concentrations of pinus sylvestris stems. Scand J For Res 4:443–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Herman DJ, Rundel PW (1989) Nitrogen isotope fractionation in burned and unburned chaparral soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 53:1229–1236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Högberg P (1997) 15N natural abundance in soil-plant systems. New Phytol 137:179–203. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.1998.00239.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kaennel M, Schweingruber FH (1995) Multilingual glossary of dendrochronology, terms and definitions in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Russian. Paul Haupt, Berne, p 467Google Scholar
  33. LA IP (2007) Carta dei Suoli del Piemonte (1:250.000). Selca, FlorenceGoogle Scholar
  34. Loader NJ, Switsur VR (1996) Reconstructing past environmental change using stable isotopes in tree rings. Bot J Scotland 48:65–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McCarroll D, Loader NJ (2004) Stable isotopes in tree rings. Quat Sci Rev 23:771–801. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2003.06.017 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McHugh CW, Kolb TE (2003) Ponderosa pine mortality following fire in northern Arizona. Int J Wildl Fire 12:7–22. doi:10.1071/WF02054 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Merrill W, Cowling EB (1966) Role of nitrogen in wood deterioration amounts and distribution of nitrogen in tree stems. Can J Bot 44:1555–1580. doi:10.1139/b66-168 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Neary DG, Klopatek CC, DeBano LF, Ffolliott PF (1999) Fire effects on belowground sustainability: a review and synthesis. For Ecol Manage 122:51–71. doi:10.1016/S0378-1127(99)00032-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Niklasson M, Granström A (2000) Numbers and sizes of fires: long-term spatially explicit fire history in a Swedish boreal landscape. Ecology 81:1484–1499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. O’Leary MH (1988) Carbon isotopes in photosynthesis. Bioscience 38:328–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Oberhuber W, Kofler W (2000) Topographic influences on radial growth of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) at small spatial scales. Plant Ecol 146:231–2400. doi:10.1023/A:1009827628125 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pallardy SG, Kozlowski TT (2008) Physiology of woody plants. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Rieske LK (2002) Wildfire alters oak growth, foliar chemistry, and herbivory. For Ecol Manage 168:91–99. doi:10.1016/S0378-1127(01)00731-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Robertson I, Rolfe J, Switsur VR, Carter AHC, Hall MA, Baker AC, Waterhouse JS (1997) Signal strength and climate relationships in 13C/12C ratios of tree ring cellulose from oak in Southwest Finland. Geophys Res Lett 24:1487–1490. doi:10.1029/97GL01293 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Saurer M, Siegenthaler IU, Schweingruber FH (1995) The climate carbon isotope ratios in tree ring and the significance in site condition. Tellus 47(3):320–330. doi:10.1034/j.1600-0889.47.issue3.4.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Saurer M, Cherubini P, Ammann M, De Cinti B, Siegwolf RTW (2004) First detection of nitrogen from NOx in tree rings: a 15N/14N study near a motorway. Atmos Environ 38:2779–2787. doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2004.02.037 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schleser GH, Helle G, Lucke A, Vos H (1999) Isotope signals as climate proxies: the role of transfer functions in the study of terrestrial archives. Quat Sci Rev 18:927–943. doi:10.1016/S0277-3791(99)00006-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schweingruber FH (1988) Tree rings. Basic and applications of dendrochronology. D. Reidel, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  49. Sheppard PR, Thompson TL (2000) Effect of extraction pretreatment on radial variation of nitrogen concentration in tree rings. J Environ Qual 29:2037–2042CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Simard S, Elhani S, Morin H, Krause C, Cherubini P (2008) Carbon and oxygen stable isotopes from tree-rings to identify spruce budworm outbreaks in the boreal forest of Québec. Chem Geol 252:80–87. doi:10.1016/j.chemgeo.2008.01.018 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Stokes MA, Smiley TL (1968) An introduction to tree-ring dating. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p 73Google Scholar
  52. Swetnam TW (1993) Fire history and climate change in giant sequoia groves. Science 262:885–889PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Veblen TT, Kitzberger T, Villalba R, Donnegan J (1999) Fire history in northern Patagonia: the roles of humans and climatic variation. Ecol Monogr 69:47–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Weaver H (1951) Fire as ecological factor in the south-western ponderosa pine forests. J For 49:93–98Google Scholar
  55. Whelan RJ (1995) The ecology of fire. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 346Google Scholar
  56. Zimmerman JK, Ehleringer JR (1990) Carbon isotope ratios are correlated with irradiance levels in the Panamanian orchid Catasetum viridiflavum. Oecologia 83:247–249. doi:10.1007/BF00317759 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachele Beghin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Paolo Cherubini
    • 1
  • Giovanna Battipaglia
    • 1
    • 3
  • Rolf Siegwolf
    • 4
  • Matthias Saurer
    • 4
  • Giovanni Bovio
    • 2
  1. 1.WSL Swiss Federal Research InstituteBirmensdorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of AgroSelviTerUniversità di TorinoGrugliascoItaly
  3. 3.ENEARomeItaly
  4. 4.PSI Paul Scherrer InstituteVilligenSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations