Ecological Society of America
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Under a warming climate, the southern boreal forest of North America is expected to see a doubling in fire frequency and potential for increased wind disturbance over the next century. Although boreal forests are often considered fire-adapted, projected increases in disturbance frequency will likely result in novel combinations of disturbances with severities and impacts on community composition outside historic norms. Using a network of repeatedly measured vegetation monitoring plots, we followed changes in tree community composition in areas of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), in Minnesota, USA, experiencing disturbances ranging from severe windstorms or wildfires to areas affected by wind followed by fire or multiple fires within a short period of time. Using nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordination, hierarchical cluster analysis, and permutational analysis of variance, we compared successional pathways across different disturbance types and combinations to test whether multiple disturbances had altered successional pathways or caused greater convergence relative to single disturbances. We found that multiple disturbances often resulted in strong shifts toward wind-dispersed early-successional tree species, while single disturbances tended to have multiple successional pathways that favored both late- and early-successional species. All disturbances in our study resulted in significant shifts in composition, but we generally failed to find statistical evidence of changes in community dispersion. Although boreal forests appear to be somewhat resilient to multiple disturbance events, multiple disturbances resulted in post-disturbance tree communities that were heavily dominated by disturbance-adapted deciduous trees at the expense of conifers. Our results demonstrate that multiple disturbances are capable of altering successional pathways relative to single disturbance events and that increasingly frequent disturbances are likely to alter boreal forest structure and composition, perhaps leading to a forest region strikingly unlike that of today.
Anoszko, E., L. E. Frelich, R. L. Rich, and P. B. Reich. 2022. Wind and fire: Rapid shifts in tree community composition following multiple disturbances in the southern boreal forest. Ecosphere 13:e3952.