Question: What is the relative importance of fire-induced canopy mortality, soil burning and post-fire herbivory on tree seedling performance?
Location: Subalpine Nothofagus pumilio forests at Challhuaco valley (41°13′S, 71°19′W), Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina.
Methods: We fenced and transplanted soils of three burning severities along a fire severity gradient produced by a fire in 1996. Over two growing seasons we monitored soil water, direct incoming solar radiation, seedling survival, final seedling total biomass and root/shoot ratio. Additionally, we assessed severity-related changes in soil properties.
Results: Incoming radiation (an indicator of the amount of canopy cover left by the fire) was the primary factor influencing spring and summer top soil water availability, first and second-year seedling survival and seedling growth. While seedling survival and soil water content were negatively affected by increased radiation, seedling final biomass was highest in very open microsites. Burned soils showed lower water holding capacity and soil carbon; however these changes did not affect topsoil water, and, contrary to expectation, there was a slight tendency toward higher seedling survival on more heavily burned soils. Herbivory significantly reduced seedling survival, but only under high-radiation conditions. While the effect of radiation on final seedling biomass was not affected by herbivory, R/S ratios were significantly reduced by herbivory in high radiation microsites.
Conclusions: Despite inducing faster aerial growth, increased radiation and herbivory in severely burned sites may effectively prevent post-fire regeneration in north Patagonian subalpine forest where seed sources are not limiting.
Nomenclature: Correa (1969–1984).
Abbreviations: HEF = herbivory effect; R/S = root:shoot final seedling biomass ratio; RAD = Direct incoming spring-summer integrated radiation; SBS = soil burning severity treatments; SWC = Gravimetric top soil water content.