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Wildfire and topography drive woody plant diversity in a Sky Island mountain range in the Southwest USA
  • Andrew Barton,
  • Helen Poulos
Andrew Barton
University of Maine at Farmington
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Helen Poulos
Wesleyan University
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Aim: Drastic changes in fire regimes are altering plant communities, inspiring ecologists to better understand the relationship between fire and plant species diversity. We examined the impact of a 2011 megafire on woody plant species diversity in an arid mountain range in southern Arizona, USA. We tested recent fire-diversity hypotheses by addressing the impact of the fire severity, fire variability, historic fire regimes, and topography on diversity. Location: Chiricahua National Monument, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona. USA., part of the Sky Islands of the US-Mexico borderlands. Taxon: Woody plant species. Methods: We sampled woody plant diversity in 138 plots before (2002-2003) and after (2017-2018) the 2011 Horseshoe Two Megafire in three vegetation types and across fire severity and topographic gradients. We calculated gamma, beta, and alpha diversity and examined changes over time in burned vs. unburned plots and the shapes of the relationships of diversity with fire severity and topography. Results: Alpha species richness declined and beta and gamma diversity increased in burned but not unburned plots. Fire-induced enhancement of gamma diversity was confined to low fire severity plots. Alpha diversity did not exhibit a clear continuous relationship with fire severity. Beta diversity was enhanced by fire severity variation among plots and increased with fire severity up to very high diversity, where it declined slightly. Main Conclusions: The results reject the intermediate disturbance hypothesis for alpha diversity but weakly support it for gamma diversity. Spatial variation in fire severity promoted variation among plant assemblages, supporting the pyrodiversity hypothesis. Long-term drought probably amplified fire-driven diversity changes. Despite the apparent benign impact of the fire on diversity, the replacement of two large conifer species with shrubs signals the potential loss of functional diversity, emphasizing the importance of intervention to direct the transition to a novel vegetation mosaic.

Peer review status:UNDER REVIEW

07 Jun 2021Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
08 Jun 2021Assigned to Editor
08 Jun 2021Submission Checks Completed
09 Jun 2021Reviewer(s) Assigned