Recovery of aboveground plant biomass and productivity after fire in mesic and dry black spruce forests of interior Alaska

Michelle C. Mack, Kathleen K. Treseder, Kristen L. Manies, Jennifer W. Harden, Edward A.G. Schuur, Jason G. Vogel, James T. Randerson, F. Stuart Chapin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Plant biomass accumulation and productivity are important determinants of ecosystem carbon (C) balance during post-fire succession. In boreal black spruce (Picea mariana) forests near Delta Junction, Alaska, we quantified aboveground plant biomass and net primary productivity (ANPP) for 4 years after a 1999 wildfire in a well-drained (dry) site, and also across a dry and a moderately well-drained (mesic) chronosequence of sites that varied in time since fire (2 to ∼116 years). Four years after fire, total biomass at the 1999 burn site had increased exponentially to 160 ± 21 g m-2 (mean ± 1SE) and vascular ANPP had recovered to 138 ± 32 g m-2 y -1, which was not different than that of a nearby unburned stand (160 ± 48 g m-2 y-1) that had similar pre-fire stand structure and understory composition. Production in the young site was dominated by re-sprouting graminoids, whereas production in the unburned site was dominated by black spruce. On the dry and mesic chronosequences, total biomass pools, including overstory and understory vascular and non-vascular plants, and lichens, increased logarithmically (dry) or linearly (mesic) with increasing site age, reaching a maximum of 2469 ± 180 (dry) and 4008 ± 233 g m-2 (mesic) in mature stands. Biomass differences were primarily due to higher tree density in the mesic sites because mass per tree was similar between sites. ANPP of vascular and non-vascular plants increased linearly over time in the mesic chronosequence to 335 ± 68 g m-2 y -1 in the mature site, but in the dry chronosequence it peaked at 410 ± 43 g m-2 y-1 in a 15-year-old stand dominated by deciduous trees and shrubs. Key factors regulating biomass accumulation and production in these ecosystems appear to be the abundance and composition of re-sprouting species early in succession, the abundance of deciduous trees and shrubs in intermediate aged stands, and the density of black spruce across all stand ages. A better understanding of the controls over these factors will help predict how changes in climate and fire regime will affect the carbon balance of Interior Alaska.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-225
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Aboveground net primary production
  • Biomass accumulation
  • Boreal forest
  • Fire
  • Plant species composition
  • Soil drainage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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