Plant Ecology

, Volume 213, Issue 2, pp 207–224 | Cite as

Fire-induced shifts in overstory tree species composition and associated understory plant composition in Glacier National Park, Montana

  • David A. McKenzieEmail author
  • Daniel B. Tinker


In Rocky Mountain forests, fire can act as a mechanism of change in plant community composition if postfire conditions favor establishment of species other than those that dominated prefire tree communities. We sampled pre and postfire overstory and postfire understory species following recent (1988–2006) stand-replacing fires in Glacier National Park (GNP), Montana. We identified changes in relative density of tree species and groups of species (xerophytes vs. mesophytes and reseeders vs. resprouters) in early succession. Postfire tree seedling densities were adequate to maintain prefire forest structure, but relative densities among species were variously changed. Changes were directly related to individual species’ response to severe fires. Most notably, relative density of the mesophytic resprouter quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and the xerophytic reseeder lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) increased substantially following fire, with a concomitant decline in proportional abundance of other tree species that, in some cases, dominated stands before fire. Trends identified in our study suggest that forest community shifts toward those dominated by lodgepole pine and quaking aspen are occurring in GNP. Cover of understory species was not affected by tree species composition or density. These forest communities will likely change throughout succession with the addition of shade-intolerant species in early seral stages and shade-tolerant species later in succession. However, with increased fire frequency, the lodgepole pine-dominated postfire communities observed in our study may become more common throughout time.


Postfire succession Glacier National Park Site effects Montane forests Species shifts 



Monica Turner and William Romme provided ideas in the initial stages of the project that helped direct the research. Monica and two anonymous reviewers also extensively reviewed an early draft of the manuscript, greatly improving its quality. Marci Trana and Brandon Davis assisted with field work. At GNP, Dennis Divoky and Richard Menicke provided GIS support and valuable feedback for selection of plot locations, and Leigh Welling and Billie Thomas provided logistic support. Funding was provided by the Jerry O’Neal NPS Student Fellowship and the National Science Foundation (Grant EPS-0447681).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program in Ecology and Department of Botany-3165University of WyomingLaramieUSA

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