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Influence of fire severity on stand development of Araucaria araucanaNothofagus pumilio stands in the Andean cordillera of south-central Chile

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Abstract

Fire is the prevalent disturbance in the Araucaria–Nothofagus forested landscape in south-central Chile. Although both surface and stand-replacing fires are known to characterize these ecosystems, the variability of fire severity in shaping forest structure has not previously been investigated in Araucaria–Nothofagus forests. Age structures of 16 stands, in which the ages of approximately 650 trees were determined, indicate that variability in fire severity and frequency is key to explaining the mosaic of forest patches across the Araucaria–Nothofagus landscape. High levels of tree mortality in moderate- to high-severity fires followed by new establishment of Nothofagus pumilio typically result in stands characterized by one or two cohorts of this species. Large Araucaria trees are highly resistant to fire, and this species typically survives moderate- to high-severity fires either as dispersed individuals or as small groups of multi-aged trees. Small post-fire cohorts of Araucaria may establish, depending on seed availability and the effects of subsequent fires. Araucaria's great longevity (often >700 years) and resistance to fire allow some individuals to survive fires that kill and then trigger new Nothofagus cohorts. Even in relatively mesic habitats, where fires are less frequent, the oldest Araucaria–Nothofagus pumilio stands originated after high-severity fires. Overall, stand development patterns of subalpine AraucariaN. pumilio forests are largely controlled by moderate- to high-severity fires, and therefore tree regeneration dynamics is strongly dominated by a catastrophic regeneration mode.

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