Non-native pathogens affect forests throughout North America, resulting in changes in species composition, structure, and ecosystem processes. We studied the effects of the emergent disease sudden oak death (SOD) and the resulting functional extinction of tanoak, a highly susceptible native tree with flammable litter, on future community flammability. We quantified four flammability metrics (flame height; flaming duration; smoldering duration; and fuel consumed) for litter from each of five species that co-occur with tanoak and for species mixtures with and without tanoak (n = 14). We combined these flammability metrics in a Principal Components Analysis to evaluate potential shifts in litter flammability from pre-SOD (with tanoak litter) to post-SOD (where tanoak was replaced equally with remaining species). Litter flammability changed following the loss of tanoak, but the differences were species- and community-specific. Mixed-evergreen fuels where coast Douglas-fir litter replaced tanoak experienced consistent declines in flammability. Few substantive changes occurred in communities where coast redwood or other hardwoods co-occurred. We found consistent synergistic flammability effects when multiple species’ litters were mixed; in cases where two or more species were mixed, most (75%) combinations burned with higher intensity (+8.1%) and fuelbeds flamed for a longer duration (+17.1%). Our work demonstrates that potential surface fire behavior in northwestern California may be dampened where Douglas-fir replaces tanoak, while those communities with other hardwoods or coast redwood may have redundant fuels and tanoak’s absence in future fires may be inconspicuous. These results underscore the potential for cascading effects of non-native pathogens on ecosystem function in fire-prone ecosystems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics