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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Ecology

Cork Oak Vulnerability to Fire: The Role of Bark Harvesting, Tree Characteristics and Abiotic Factors
Published: Thursday, June 28, 2012
Author: Filipe X. Catry et al.

by Filipe X. Catry, Francisco Moreira, Juli G. Pausas, Paulo M. Fernandes, Francisco Rego, Enrique Cardillo, Thomas Curt

Forest ecosystems where periodical tree bark harvesting is a major economic activity may be particularly vulnerable to disturbances such as fire, since debarking usually reduces tree vigour and protection against external agents. In this paper we asked how cork oak Quercus suber trees respond after wildfires and, in particular, how bark harvesting affects post-fire tree survival and resprouting. We gathered data from 22 wildfires (4585 trees) that occurred in three southern European countries (Portugal, Spain and France), covering a wide range of conditions characteristic of Q. suber ecosystems. Post-fire tree responses (tree mortality, stem mortality and crown resprouting) were examined in relation to management and ecological factors using generalized linear mixed-effects models. Results showed that bark thickness and bark harvesting are major factors affecting resistance of Q. suber to fire. Fire vulnerability was higher for trees with thin bark (young or recently debarked individuals) and decreased with increasing bark thickness until cork was 3–4 cm thick. This bark thickness corresponds to the moment when exploited trees are debarked again, meaning that exploited trees are vulnerable to fire during a longer period. Exploited trees were also more likely to be top-killed than unexploited trees, even for the same bark thickness. Additionally, vulnerability to fire increased with burn severity and with tree diameter, and was higher in trees burned in early summer or located in drier south-facing aspects. We provided tree response models useful to help estimating the impact of fire and to support management decisions. The results suggested that an appropriate management of surface fuels and changes in the bark harvesting regime (e.g. debarking coexisting trees in different years or increasing the harvesting cycle) would decrease vulnerability to fire and contribute to the conservation of cork oak ecosystems.
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