Ecological legacies of fire detected using plot-level measurements and LiDAR in an old growth coastal temperate rainforest

Ecological legacies of fire detected using plot-level measurements and LiDAR in an old growth coastal temperate rainforest

Publication date: 15 September 2018
Source:Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 424
Author(s): Kira M. Hoffman, Andrew J. Trant, Wiebe Nijland, Brian M. Starzomski

Vegetation succession following fire disturbances has long been of interest in ecology, but the evolution of landscape pattern and structure following low-severity ground fires is poorly understood. In coastal temperate rainforest ecosystems historic fire disturbances are not well documented and time since the most recent fire is largely unknown. We sampled 6000 tree cores from 27 forest plots that burned 124 years ago and 11 plots with no recent history of fire (within the last 1000 years) to understand the legacies of fire on forest stand structure in a British Columbia high-latitude coastal temperate rainforest. We assessed the timing and spatial extent of historic fires with a 700 year fire history reconstruction built from fire scars, and applied light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to ground-truth plot-level measurements. We sampled an additional 32 plots with known fire histories to validate the ability of LiDAR to detect and characterize historic fire legacies. In total, we sampled 70 plots for stem density, stand structure, and stand composition. Trees in burned plots were significantly taller, and the mean stem density was less than half that of unburned plots despite 124  years since the most recent fire. LiDAR analyses had similar results and also showed that burned plots had lower canopy cover and greater canopy complexity. Field-based measurements are still required to resolve differences in community structure and composition in our temperate rainforest study area. However, LiDAR may be an important tool to bridge the spatial information offered by plot-level measurements to larger area characterizations in the future. Our comparative analyses provide an improved understanding of fire legacies and temperate rainforest structure, which increases our ability to detect fire disturbances in heterogeneous forests and is important for forest resource management and conservation.


via ScienceDirect Publication: Forest Ecology and Management

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