Fire regimes shape diversity and traits of vegetation under different climatic conditions

Víctor Fernández-García, Elena Marcos, Peter Z. Fulé, Otilia Reyes, Victor M. Santana, Leonor Calvo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Changes in climate and land use are altering fire regimes in many regions across the globe. This work aims to study the influence of wildfire recurrence and burn severity on woody community structure and plant functional traits under different environmental conditions. We selected three study sites along a Mediterranean-Oceanic climatic gradient, where we studied the fire history and burn severity of the last wildfire. Four years after the last wildfire, we established 1776 1-m2 plots where the percentage cover of each woody species was sampled. We calculated (i) structural parameters of the community such as total cover, alpha species richness, evenness and diversity (Shannon diversity index), and (ii) vegetation cover of each functional group (differentiating life forms, eco-physiological traits and regenerative traits). Focusing on community structure, results showed increases in species richness and diversity as wildfire recurrence increased, but this effect was partially counterweighted in the areas affected by high severity. In relation to functional groups, we found that increases in recurrence and severity fostered transition from tree- to shrub-dominated ecosystems. Non-arboreal life form, high specific leaf area, N2-fixing capacity, resprouting ability and heat-stimulated germination were advantageous traits under high recurrences and severities, and low seed mass was advantageous under high recurrence situations. We suggest that the strength of the effects of wildfire recurrence and burn severity on vegetation structure and traits might vary with climate, increasing from Oceanic to Mediterranean conditions. In the Mediterranean site, recurrence and severity were strongly related to traits associated with germination (seed mass and heat-stimulated germination), whereas in the Oceanic site the strongest relationships were found with a resprouting-related trait (bud location). This study identifies changes in vegetation structure and composition in scenarios of high recurrence and severity, and provides useful information on plant traits that could be key in enhancing vegetation resilience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137137
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 10 2020


  • Burn severity
  • Community structure
  • Eco-physiological traits
  • Life forms
  • Regenerative traits
  • Wildfire recurrence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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