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Altered Fire Regimes Affect Landscape Patterns of Plant Succession in the Foothills and Mountains of Southern California

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Abstract

In the southern California foothills and mountains, pronounced and complex topographic gradients support fire regimes that vary over short distances. We used LANDIS, a spatially explicit landscape model of disturbance and plant succession, to examine the resilience of dominant plant species, representing different disturbance response strategies, to the effect of varying fire rotation intervals (FRI). The simulated fire regimes represented natural, current and very long FRIs for the foothill shrublands less than 1,400 m (90, 30 and 150 years) and montane forest greater than 1400 m (30, 150, 500 years). The 30-year FRI allowed obligate resprouting shrubs to dominate over obligate seeders, whereas the 90-year FRI resulted in a stable spatial distribution of both of these shrub functional types. This is consistent with the literature that suggests that shifts in shrubland composition are most likely to result from human-caused increases in fire frequency at the low-elevation urban-wildland interface. An ecotone conifer, Pinus coulteri, showed dramatic shifts in distribution under different FRIs, and retreated to the portion of the landscape representing its temporal regeneration niche. Both low and high frequency fire maintained the fire tolerant dominant pine (P. jeffreyi) in the montane zone. This contradicts the literature that suggests that a high frequency ground fire regime is required for the persistence of a pine-dominated forest, but is consistent with studies showing that conifer forests in the western U.S. have experienced, and are resilient to, a broad range of natural FRIs that include low frequency, high intensity crown fires.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 9818665 (to JF) and a NASA ESS fellowship (to ADS). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF or NASA. JF and ADS thank D. Apalatea and C. Coulter for their assistance, and J. Keeley, C. J. Fotheringham, P. Zedler and M. Wells for their insights. The manuscript was greatly improved by the comments of D. DeAngelis and the anonymous reviewers.

Appendix A.1 Species Establishment Coefficients (probability of species establishment)
Appendix A. 2 Fire Severity Curves for Landtypes (ordinal scale of increasing fire severity, 1-5)
Appendix A. 3 Species Parameters used by LANDIS

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Franklin, J., Syphard, A.D., He, H.S. et al. Altered Fire Regimes Affect Landscape Patterns of Plant Succession in the Foothills and Mountains of Southern California. Ecosystems 8, 885–898 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-005-0017-6

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