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Mortality of resprouting chaparral shrubs after a fire and during a record drought: physiological mechanisms and demographic consequences



We examined postfire regeneration of chaparral shrubs during an intense drought. This study focused on the demography and physiology of shrub species that resprout from a basal lignotuber following fire. We found significant levels of resprout mortality when intense drought occurred in the year following fire during the period of shrub recovery. Three of the seven sampled resprouting species had the greatest or near greatest levels of mortality ever recorded when compared to previous studies. Most shrub mortality occurred during the drought after individuals had resprouted (i.e. individuals survived fire, resprouted and then subsequently died). Physiological measurements of species with high mortality suggested that resprout stems were highly embolized and xylem hydraulic conductivities were close to zero during the peak of the drought. In addition, lignotubers of two of the three species experiencing high mortality were depleted of starch. Population densities of most shrub species declined after the drought compared with their prefire levels, with the exception of one drought tolerant obligate seeding species. Resprouting shrub species may deplete their carbohydrate reserves during the resprouting process, making them particularly vulnerable to drought because of the need to transpire water to acquire the CO2 that is used to supply energy to a large respiring root system. Drought appears to interact with fire by altering postfire shrub recovery and altering species abundances and composition of chaparral communities.