Spatial patterns of ponderosa pine regeneration in high-severity burn patches

Suzanne M. Owen, Carolyn H. Sieg, Andrew J. Sánchez Meador, Peter Z. Fulé, José M. Iniguez, L. Scott Baggett, Paula J. Fornwalt, Michael A. Battaglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Contemporary wildfires in southwestern US ponderosa pine forests can leave uncharacteristically large patches of tree mortality, raising concerns about the lack of seed-producing trees, which can prevent or significantly delay ponderosa pine regeneration. We established 4-ha plots in high-severity burn patches in two Arizona wildfires, the 2000 Pumpkin and 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fires, to determine if: (1) distance from forest edge influences the density and spatial patterns of regenerating ponderosa pine and sprouting tree species, (2) interactions with re-sprouting trees affect spatial patterns of ponderosa pine regeneration, and (3) distance from forest edge and species competition affect regenerating ponderosa pine height. Plots were located in high-severity burn patches (defined as 100% tree mortality) and either adjacent to residual live forest edges (edge plots), or >200 m from any residual live trees (interior plots). We found higher ponderosa pine regeneration densities in the edge plots (13–154 (median = 69) stems ha−1) than the interior plots (12–124 (median = 29) stems ha−1) on both wildfires, but no differences in spatial patterns between edge and interior plots. Ponderosa pine regeneration displayed patterns of small-scale spatial aggregation in all plots, except one edge and one interior plot on the Pumpkin Fire, which displayed random distributions. These patterns suggest both short- and long-distance dispersal play important roles in ponderosa pine regeneration in high-severity burn patches. Sprouting trees dominated tree regeneration on the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, but they were spatially independent of ponderosa pine and did not influence ponderosa pine height. Regenerating ponderosa pine height was positively correlated with neighboring ponderosa pine densities and height, suggesting that intraspecific facilitation or similar habitat preferences occur in high-severity burn patches. Collectively, these results indicate that ponderosa pines are re-establishing with heterogeneous spatial patterns in large high-severity burn patches, but often with low densities. Also, ponderosa pine regeneration could be more strongly influenced by intraspecific facilitation than interspecific competition from dense sprouting species. Future forest spatial patterns and composition are still unclear, but at this stage of development, these heterogeneous patches, characterized by drought-tolerant sprouting species or low pine densities, could be more resilient to climate change and severe wildfires than the overly-dense ponderosa pine forests that were present before the wildfires.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-149
Number of pages16
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Arizona
  • Fire severity
  • Forest resilience
  • Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii)
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • Spatial heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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