Age structure and fire disturbance in the southern Sierra Nevada subalpine forest

TitleAge structure and fire disturbance in the southern Sierra Nevada subalpine forest
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsKeifer, MB
Academic DepartmentBiology
UniversityUniversity of Arizona

I used age structure to examine the role of fire disturbance and climate on the population dynamics of the subalpine forest in the southern Sierra Nevada. I cored trees on ten 0.1 ha plots (3300-3400 m elevation) that varied in species composition, from single-species foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana) or lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta, var. murrayana), to mixed-species stands of both pines. Crossdating was used to produce accurate dates of tree recruitment and fire events. Age structure varied by plot species composition: lodgepole pine recruitment pattern is pulsed, sometimes forming single-cohort patches in response to fire; foxtail pine plots have a more steady pattern of recruitment; mixed-species plots show an intermediate recruitment pattern. Fire may maintain a species composition mosaic in the subalpine forest. Foxtail pine regeneration may increase in areas opened by fire, although not immediately following fire. Low-intensity fire may spread over areas larger than previously reported under certain conditions in the subalpine zone. In addition, unusually frequent, extreme, and/or extended periods of drought may severely limit subalpine tree regeneration. Growing season frost events and grazing before 1900 may also have affected trees establishing in the subalpine zone.