Wildfires in southwestern US ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson) forests have recently increased in size and severity, leaving large, contiguous patches of tree mortality, and raising concerns about post-fire recovery. Ponderosa pines are a dominant species in the Southwest and they evolved with low- to moderate-severity fire regimes. They are poorly adapted to regenerate after large, high-severity fires because they do not have serotinous cones, re-sprouting capabilities, or long-lived seed banks. Additionally, high-severity fires can favor competing understory plants or induce long-term changes to soil nutrient dynamics and surface fuel loads, potentially altering ponderosa pine regeneration niches. Furthermore, high-severity wildfires and the loss of ponderosa pines may alter fungal community composition, including pine-symbiotic ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi and saprotrophic fungi, which are important for forest recovery and productivity. My research objectives were to understand the effects of fire severity > 10 years post-fire on: (1) the spatial patterns, and interactions of regenerating ponderosa pine and sprouting tree species, (2) ponderosa pine regeneration niches and seedling growth, and (3) fungal sporocarp and root tip EM community composition and colonization. My study sites for the first objective included large, 4-ha plots located in two types of high-severity (100% tree mortality) burn, either adjacent to residual live forest edges (edge plots) or > 200 m from any residual live trees (interior plots) in two Arizona wildfires, the 2000 Pumpkin and 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fires.
Owen, Suzanne Marie. 2019. Tree regeneration following large wildfires in southwestern ponderosa pine forests. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. 177 p. Dissertation.