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The effect of prescribed burning on the drought resilience of Pinus nigra ssp. salzmannii Dunal (Franco) and P. sylvestris L.

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Key message

Prescribed burning applied after a dry year increased (fall burns) or had no effect (spring burns) on pine resilience, measured as the capacity to reach pre-drought growth levels compared with unburned pines. In fall burns, there was a larger increase in resilience when the impact of drought and burning on pines was low and burning caused a significant release from tree competition.


Prescribed burning after a dry year can decrease a tree’s resistance (inverse of growth reduction during disturbance); however, burning can increase resource availability and consequently tree resilience (capacity to reach pre-disturbance growth levels). In addition, the burning season can affect the latewood to earlywood ratio (latewood:earlywood) and thus have an impact on tree-ring density.


To study the effects of two consecutive disturbances (drought and burning) on Pinus nigra spp. salzmannii and Pinus sylvestris in terms of (i) total tree-ring resistance, (ii) total tree-ring, earlywood and latewood resilience, and (iii) post-stress latewood:earlywood.


We selected drought-affected trees (control) and drought-and-burning-affected trees (burned) for tree-ring sampling. For each tree, we measured total tree-ring, earlywood, and latewood widths to determine resilience and resistance indices and calculated pre- and post-stress latewood:earlywood as indicators of tree-ring density. We used linear mixed-effects models to relate these response variables to the pine species, burning characteristics, and competition release.


Resistance was higher in control trees than burned trees. P. nigra showed lower resistance than P. sylvestris but higher resilience. Resistance positively influenced resilience. Specifically, as resistance increased, total tree-ring and latewood resilience increased significantly in pines burned during the fall compared with those burned in spring or control pines. In fall burns, the pines’ resilience increased, especially when pines were significantly released from tree competition. In P. nigra, post-stress latewood:earlywood increased after fall burns as pre-stress latewood:earlywood decreased.


Prescribed burning can be a valuable management tool for overcoming the effects of a dry year on tree growth by increasing resilience, especially in P. nigra.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the Zenodo repository (Valor et al. 2019) at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3520731.


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We wish to thank GRAF (Bombers, Generalitat de Catalunya) who kindly executed the PB and the EPAF team, Dani Estruch, Ana I. Ríos, and Alba Mora, for their technical assistance in the field.


This research was funded by the Life Pinassa Project.

(LIFE13NAT/ES/000724) and by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad (projects, AGL2015–70425-R; EEBB-I-16-11003and BES-2013-065031 to T.V.) and by the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades (RTI2018-098778-B-I00).

Author information

TV and PC conceived the ideas and TV, PC, MP and JG designed methodology; TV and PC collected the data; GB and SA analyzed the isotopic data; TV, PC analyzed data and GB, MP, SA and JG help with the interpretation of the data; TV and PC led the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

Correspondence to Teresa Valor.

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Annex 1 Analysis of pointer years

To ascertain that the 2012 event was a year with significant growth reduction in both species we used the package PointRes (van der Maaten-Theunissen et al. 2015). For each tree and year, we calculate the relative growth change (in percentage) (RGC) of a specific year compared with the 3 preceding years in each species. A threshold of 25% was established, below which RGC in a specific tree and a year was considered a negative pointer year or a positive pointer year when the RGC was above 60%. For each year, when more than 50% of all trees within the control chronologies exceed the 25% or 60% threshold, the year was considered a negative or positive pointer year, respectively (Fig. 5).

Annex 2 Growth-climate relationships in P. sylvestris and P. nigra

Climate-growth relationships were analyzed for each species, by calculating Pearson correlations between control residual chronologies (total tree-ring, earlywood, and latewood) and P-PET of monthly data, and data of two and three consecutive months using the package TreeClim (Zang and Biondi 2015).

In P. sylvestris, total tree-ring was positively correlated with accumulated P-PET of previous November and December and current January and with current summer P-PET (June, July and August) (Fig. 6a). Earlywood showed higher positive correlations with P-PET of November–December-January (Fig. 6c) and latewood with the accumulate P-PET of summer months (Fig. 6e). In the 2012 dry year accumulated P-PET in previous November–December and current January, as well as in the summer months, was the lowest respect to the historical values (Fig. 7).

In P. nigra, total tree-ring was significantly correlated with accumulated P-PET of April–May-June and current fall (September, October, and November) (Fig. 6, b). Earlywood was highly correlated with P-PET in April–May–June and latewood with accumulated P-PET in the fall months (Fig. 6, d and f). In the 2012 dry year, accumulated P-PET in April–May–June and fall were lower compared with the historical values (Fig. 7).

Fig. 5

Mean growth deviation for the period 1983–2015 for P sylvestris (a) and P. nigra (b). In gray, years identified as positive or negative pointer years are highlighted

Fig. 6

Correlation between the TRW index of the residual chronologies of control pines and P-PET of three consecutive months in P. sylvestris for total tree ring (a), earlywood (c), and latewood (d) and in P. nigra for total tree ring (b), earlywood (d), and latewood (f). Months with small letters denote months of the year before tree-ring formation. The correlation showed for a given month includes the two preceding months (e.g., correlation showed in August represents the correlation of June, July and August). Significant coefficients are in dark gray

Fig. 7

Precipitation minus Potential Evapotranspiration (P-PET) for the temporal windows that significantly correlated with the growth of P. nigra and P. sylvestris (see Fig. 6) during the period 2011–2015. The mean and standard deviation of P-PET over the entire period (1975–2015) is showed as a reference of historical values. Months with small letters denote months of the year before tree-ring formation

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Valor, T., Battipaglia, G., Piqué, M. et al. The effect of prescribed burning on the drought resilience of Pinus nigra ssp. salzmannii Dunal (Franco) and P. sylvestris L.. Annals of Forest Science 77, 13 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13595-019-0912-1

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  • Resistance
  • Recovery
  • Prescribed fire
  • Carbon isotope
  • Tree rings
  • Fire ecology