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Keywords:

  • Conservation management;
  • Degenerated heath;
  • Disturbance;
  • Fire rotation;
  • Prescribed burning;
  • Principal response curves;
  • Restoration

Abstract

Questions: Does stand age influence the direction and rate of post-fire successional dynamics in coastal Calluna heaths and can old degraded heath vegetation be restored through reintroduction of fire?

Location: Coastal heaths in the Tarva archipelago, central Norway.

Methods: We investigated revegetation dynamics after experimental fires set in young (8 years since last fire) and old (>50 years since last fire) grazed heath stands. A repeated measures design was used, with floristic data recorded in permanent plots in the post-fire successions (n=12) over a 7-year period. The data were analysed using multivariate ordination techniques (PCA, RDA and PRC) and mixed effects models.

Results: The age of Calluna stands strongly influenced post-fire succession, different trends due to age explained 10.4% of variation in floristic data. Young heath showed faster succession towards pre-fire community composition than old heath, and this could partially be explained by succession-related factors: young heath had lower cover of mosses and lichens in the pre-burned vegetation, and lower cover of litter early in succession. Young heath had a less pronounced overall community response to fire than old heath. Vegetative regeneration of C. vulgaris was absent in both old and young heath, but Calluna still re-established as the dominant species within 5–7 years in both young and old stands. Regeneration dynamics were also affected by habitat conditions, different trends due to habitat explained 6% of variation.

Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that old stands do develop characteristic heathland vegetation and structure after fire, and while potential invasives into the system such as trees and rhizomatous species are present, they do not impair Calluna regeneration or vegetation development towards the target heathland community composition and structure. Further, as our young stands are only in their second fire rotation after restoration, we suggest that characteristic dynamics of managed heathlands can re-establish relatively rapidly, even in severely degenerated sites (>50 years since last fire). Site-specific factors also need to be considered. We conclude that there is restoration potential in old heaths, despite slow dynamics in the first rotation.