Question: Which is the response of the evergreen Quercus ilex and the deciduous Q. cerrioides to repeated disturbances?
Location: central Catalonia (northeastern Spain), in the areas affected by two of the largest historically recorded wildfires in NE Spain: the Bages-Berguedà fire (24 300 ha forested area burned in July 1994), and the Solsonès fire (14 300 ha burned in 1998).
Methods: Survival and growth of individuals of Quercus ilex and Q. cerrioides were evaluated in plants subjected to different fire histories and experimental disturbances (burning, cutting or clipping) applied either before or after summer.
Results: Survival was high (> 99%), with both species showing a similar high resistance to disturbances. Growth after experimental disturbance was positively related to the size of the individual before the latest forest fire occurred. Fire history had a large effect on resprout growth, as the repeated incidence of disturbances lowered the capacity of individuals to grow. The type and season of experimental disturbance experienced by plants had a large effect. Individuals that experienced total above-ground loss had lower growth rates than those with partial loss. A similar pattern was observed in individuals disturbed after the summer in relation to those disturbed before summer.
Conclusions: The larger growth rates recorded in Q. cerrioides across all fire histories and experimental treatments, and the higher vulnerability of Q. ilex to increased fire frequency, intensity of experimental disturbance, and disturbance season, provide evidence for the relatively high susceptibility of the latter to repeated disturbances. This view disagrees with the larger resilience of this species compared to co-existing deciduous oaks, as reported.