Influences of conifer succession, physiographic conditions and herbivory on quaking aspen regeneration after fire
Forest Ecology and Management
Fire suppression over the last century has increased conifer expansion and dominance in aspen-conifer forests, which appears to be a driving force behind aspen decline in some areas. The primary objective of this study was to examine how increasing conifer dominance affects aspen regeneration vigor following the return of fire. The influence of physiographic features and herbivory on aspen regeneration vigor were also examined. The study was conducted in the Sanford fire complex located in the Dixie National Forest in southern Utah, USA, where more than 31,000 hectares burned in the summer of 2002. Seven years after the burn (at 66 locations) we measured aspen regeneration density and height as response variables and former stand composition and density (the burned trees were still standing), soil characteristics, slope, aspect and presence or absence of herbivory as independent variables. Aspen regeneration (root suckering) densities ranged from <500 to 228,000 stems/hectare with an average of 37,000 stems/hectare. Post-fire aspen regeneration density was most strongly correlated with pre-fire stand successional status (as measured by stand composition and species abundance), with percent conifer abundance (R2 = −0.55) and overstory aspen density (R2 = + 0.50) being the most important. Average aspen suckering densities ranged from approximately 60,000 stems/hectare in what were relatively pure aspen stands (>90% aspen) to less than 5000 stems/hectare in stands where conifer abundance was greater than 90%. Soil C, N, and P showed positive correlations (R2 = 0.07 to 0.17) with aspen regeneration vigor, while soil texture had a relatively weak influence on sucker regeneration. Aspen regeneration densities were 15% lower on north facing aspects compared to east, west and south facing aspects with slope steepness showing no correlation with regeneration vigor. Regeneration density was significantly lower (8%) at sites with evidence of herbivory versus sites where herbivory was absent. Overall, the aspen regeneration response in the Sanford fire complex was strong despite high wildlife densities, which may be related to disturbance size. Where the maintenance of aspen is desired in the landscape we recommend promoting fire when the percentage of overstory conifer stems is greater than 80% or overstory aspen density is less than 200 overstory stems/hectare.
Smith, E.A. and others. 2011. Influences of conifer succession, physiographic conditions and herbivory on quaking aspen regeneration after fire. Forest Ecology and Management. 262(3):325-330