Temporal dimension of forest vulnerability to fire along successional trajectories

Temporal dimension of forest vulnerability to fire along successional trajectories

Abstract

Understanding ecosystem vulnerability is essential in risk management to anticipate disasters. While valuable efforts have been made to characterize vulnerability components (exposure, sensitivity, and response capacity) at particular ecosystem stages, there is still a lack of context-specific studies accounting for the temporal di- mension of vulnerability. In this study, we developed a procedure to identify the main natural dynamics of monospecific and mixed forests and to assess the variations of sensitivity and response capacity to fire along successional dynamics. In the procedure, we generated forest chronosequences by summarizing the dynamics between consecutive surveys of permanent plots into a set of longer successional trajectories represented in a multidimensional space. Then, we calculated several variables of sensitivity and response capacity to fire of forest stages associated with each trajectory and we assessed their variation along succession. The procedure was applied to Mediterranean forests in Spain dominated by a pine species poorly adapted to severe crown fires. We found that forest vulnerability components varied differently among successional trajectories, which depended on the composition and structure of their initial stages and the environmental context in which they occurred. Autosuccessional dynamics of pine forests showed relatively low sensitivity to fire along trajectories. However, their response capacity was related to the changes in shrub cover. In contrast, diversifying dynamics showed an increasing sensitivity to fire, but also a higher response capacity the greater the functional diversity along succession. These results highlight the need for considering the temporal dimension of vulnerability in risk management and the importance of assessing sensitivity and response capacity as independent components of vulnerability that can be modified through management at critical forest stages.

Publication
Journal of Environmental Management