Get access

Modelling the influence of change in fire regime on the local distribution of a Mediterranean pyrophytic plant species (Cistus salviifolius) at its northern range limit


*Marco Moretti, WSL Sottostazione Sud delle Alpi, Via Belsoggiorno 22, CH-6501 Bellinzona, Switzerland.


Aims  To assess the potential distribution of an obligate seeder and active pyrophyte, Cistus salviifolius, a vulnerable species in the Swiss Red List; to derive scenarios by changing the fire return interval; and to discuss the results from a conservation perspective. A more general aim is to assess the impact of fire as a natural factor influencing the vegetation of the southern slopes of the Alps.

Location  Alps, southern Switzerland.

Methods  Presence–absence data to fit the model were obtained from the most recent field mapping of C. salviifolius. The quantitative environmental predictors used in this study include topographic, climatic and disturbance (fire) predictors. Models were fitted by logistic regression and evaluated by jackknife and bootstrap approaches. Changes in fire regime were simulated by increasing the time-return interval of fire (simulating longer periods without fire). Two scenarios were considered: no fire in the past 15 years; or in the past 35 years.

Results  Rock cover, slope, topographic position, potential evapotranspiration and time elapsed since the last fire were selected in the final model. The Nagelkerke R2 of the model for C. salviifolius was 0.57 and the Jackknife area under the curve evaluation was 0.89. The bootstrap evaluation revealed model robustness. By increasing the return interval of fire by either up to 15 years, or 35 years, the modelled C. salviifolius population declined by 30–40%, respectively.

Main conclusions  Although fire plays a significant role, topography and rock cover appear to be the most important predictors, suggesting that the distribution of C. salviifolius in the southern Swiss Alps is closely related to the availability of supposedly competition-free sites, such as emerging bedrock, ridge locations or steep slopes. Fire is more likely to play a secondary role in allowing C. salviifolius to extend its occurrence temporarily, by increasing germination rates and reducing the competition from surrounding vegetation. To maintain a viable dormant seed bank for C. salviifolius, conservation managers should consider carrying out vegetation clearing and managing wild fire propagation to reduce competition and ensure sufficient recruitment for this species.